The countdown is on! It’s hard for me to believe, but Something New, Book 2 in my brand new The Second Chance Shop series, releases in just 19 more sleeps! If you’ve already read Book 1, Something Old, I suspect you’re looking forward to it immensely (or so I hope, LOL)! But if you haven’t, don’t worry. Just like all my “series” books, Something New is a wonderfully satisfying standalone story in its own right.
To celebrate being so close to launch day – and to wet your whistle a bit 😄 – I thought it would be fun to share a sneak preview! So on that note, without further ado, here is Something New, chapters 1 and 2. Enjoy!
Early morning wasn’t the best chance of reaching her daughter, but it had been weeks without contact of any kind, so now Gwen was trying—literally—morning, noon, and night.
“Come on, Lily. Come on. Pick up,” she whispered.
“We’re sorry. Your call did not go through. Please try your call again.” The robotic voice pushed Gwen’s heart, already weighed down with ever-present grief and worry, even lower. It was impossible to tell what getting the robot meant. That Lily’s phone was turned off? That she was out of minutes or battery? That she no longer had her phone? Those were the only options Gwen let herself contemplate—No, wait. That wasn’t quite true. She also let herself think that maybe Lily had a text-only plan.
Acting with a hopefulness she didn’t truly feel, Gwen texted—opting for short and to the point this time, since in her last series of texts she had tried, by turns, imploring, heartfelt, and newsy—and each failed to yield any type of response. “Just let us know you’re OK.”
She waited a moment, then slid her phone into the pocket of her hooded sweatshirt and exited the washroom. She needed to shake a leg or the kids would be late. Taking a deep breath and putting a smile on her face, Gwen got on with things.
The snow had finally melted, and the outside world was slowly turning green, but the early March mornings were still frigid. She always felt badly that schools in the north had “spring” break at such a cold time of year—and now, just as everyone was heading back to class, the temperatures would rise. Gwen made sure the three kids were zipped into their winter jackets, then planted a kiss on Zena’s strawberry blonde crown and one on Zach’s ear. She’d been aiming for the top of his auburn brush cut, but he’d wiggled away. Pillar tilted her forehead up, too, waiting for her turn, which made Gwen blink away tears. Nine years old and still so sweet. She gave Pillar two kisses—one above each eyebrow, where her baby-soft skin was pulled tight from double French braids that the little girl had carefully plaited all by herself.
“Have a great day, sweetie.”
“You too, Grandma,” Pillar said in her quiet, serious way. Then a small furrow knit her brow. “Grandma?”
“How sick do you have to be to stay home from school?”
Gwen, distracted by a search for Zena’s boots, threw her full attention back to Pillar. This was strange. The three kids were never ill. Physically, they were as healthy and active as little goats. “Don’t you feel well?”
“No, I’m fine. I’m just wondering.”
Gwen rested the back of her hand gently on Pillar’s forehead. She didn’t feel warm, and she’d eaten a hearty breakfast with no complaints . . . “If you even feel a little bit sick, you can stay home, okay? Just call me.”
Pillar nodded and looked . . . relieved. A niggle of worry squirmed in Gwen’s stomach, but she forced herself to not overreact. It wasn’t healthy for her—or the kids—to constantly assume something terrible was coming. Besides, classrooms were germ factories. It would be more abnormal if the kids didn’t feel subpar occasionally.
Confirming Zena was still holding her lunch kit, Gwen grabbed Zach’s backpack and passed it to him—for the third time in as many minutes. Then she handed Pillar a sealed envelope with cash for a month’s worth of hot lunch Fridays. She suspected most people used e-Transfer these days and made a mental note to check with the school to see if that was something she should do in the future.
“Have a good day, guys. Walk fast, so you’re not late.”
The trio nodded in unison.
“Zena, I’ll pick you up after kindergarten. Pillar, hon. It’s swimming lesson day. Come straight home, and—”
“Make sure I bring Zach with me, I know. I won’t forget. I promise,” said Pillar in her earnest, serious way, without even a hint of impatience, sarcasm or cheek—and Gwen wished for about the billionth time the little girl hadn’t had to grow up being so responsible, yet at the same was supremely grateful that she was.
And then the kids were out the door in a rush, eager to meet up with their friends.
Gwen shut the door and leaned against it, closing her eyes briefly. Really, it was all going smoothly. Not that much different than—
A panicked rap-rap-rap jolted Gwen from her thoughts. She opened the door to find Zach, his elfin face pale with stress and his beautiful gray eyes pools of concern.
He launched himself into her stomach, wrapping his skinny arms around her waist like he was holding on for dear life. “I forgot to say I love you.”
Gwen staggered a little with the impact but hugged him back just as tightly. “Oh, sweet boy. I love you too.”
He released her, still looking close to tears. “I just don’t want you to forget,” he said in a small voice, quite unlike his usual boisterous one.
Gwen smiled, though her heart felt like it was cracking. “I won’t, I promise—and you don’t forget what I said either.”
Zach nodded, and then, in the way of small children, rallied quickly—or so Gwen desperately hoped was the case; let him, let them, rally quickly—and ran to catch up with his sisters. He turned back for a second as he reached the sidewalk, and Gwen gave him a cheerful wave.
Oh, yeah, Gwen thought sarcastically as her moment-ago thought came back to her. Not that much different than before—except this time around, she was Grandma, not mom. Plus, she had no husband to help her and way less confidence with the whole kid-raising thing. She and Mick had always been such a united team—on all fronts, work and play. How could she manage this new development in her life without him? She wanted to sink to the floor, but the memory of Zach’s desperate grip held her up. She didn’t have time for self-pity. She had two and a half hours before she needed to leave to pick up Zena and about five hours of chores to do in that time.
Going over her mental list, she decided laundry, bills, bathrooms, and groceries were the top priorities. On her way to grab the kids’ dirty clothes—reminding herself that their swim stuff was the critical load—Gwen paused by the bedroom Lily had claimed before she’d taken off this last time.
For a breath, she pretended she wasn’t going to give in, but then she realized that charade would only waste more precious seconds.
She pushed the door open and stepped into the shadowy room, then flicked on the light, though it wasn’t necessary. She had every detail committed to memory, from the small burn mark Lily had left in the carpeting by the window and the immaculately made bed with its sea glass coloured duvet and pillow set, to the collection of framed pictures that always made Gwen feel like her heart was bleeding.
Gwen walked over to the set of framed pictures, the way she always did every single time she entered this room, despite the pain. Her ritual.
In one photo, Lily, Pillar, Zach, and Zena sat on a driftwood log by the river. They were all beaming, and Lily’s pretty, apple-cheeked face, so like Zena’s, gave no clue of the troubles plaguing her thinking or the addictions slowly consuming her. Gwen pressed a hand to her chest, trying to calm her now-racing heartbeat. What clues had she missed when Lily might have been more open to help? How had she failed her so badly?
In another picture—from just three Christmases ago—Lily, plus Gwen’s other two children, Ryan, her eldest, and Sage, the baby, pulled funny faces, each decked out in “ugly” Christmas sweaters that Gwen had secretly thought were adorable. It was a heartwarming picture that always made her smile, even as she sighed. None of them had a clue then that Mick, their healthy, happy-go-lucky father and Gwen’s husband of nearly thirty years, would be stolen by an aneurysm less than a week after taking that picture. Even more shocking to Gwen’s unsuspecting self would’ve been the knowledge that, hard as it still was, it would be the least of the heartbreak she’d soon face.
Last but not least, the third picture: newborn Lily in Mick’s lap staring up at him with that intense, studious way babies have—and young Mick’s face soft with awe and love. Gwen inhaled sharply, stabbed with a vicious double-sided blade of happiness and sorrow at seeing them both unguarded, healthy, whole, full of love.
Suddenly, Gwen couldn’t bear it for one more minute. It was time to clear out this room and let one of her grandkids have it. She gathered the three framed treasured-and-despised reminders to her chest.
Bring them back to me, she prayed in her in head, holding the pictures close. Bring them back. But Mick was gone. And Lily? She was too, and Gwen, if she was honest with herself—something she tried to be—was losing hope that her middle child would ever truly return in any meaningful way. Sometimes Gwen, as much as she missed Mick, thought it was a mercy he had died before they’d ever known how bad Lily would get.
That laundry isn’t going to wash itself. The practical thought, her mind’s usual bent, popped into Gwen’s head and she latched onto it. It really wouldn’t. Slipping back across the hall, she stashed the framed photos in the top drawer of her dresser—not bothering to pretend to herself that she wouldn’t still look at them every day—and got busy.
Load laundry with swimsuits and towels. Check.
Make a grocery list. Check.
Pay bills. Check.
Pare down grocery list. It would be good to use up some of the weird things she had in the pantry and freezer, anyway. Check.
Water new seedlings and check the trays’ temperatures, etc.—without dawdling over them this time. Check.
Wipe down bathrooms. Check.
First load of laundry into dryer. Second load on to wash. Check and check.
Gwen glanced down at her Fitbit, but not to monitor her steps. She wasn’t worried about that. She always got her minimum in. No, it was the time she was after. Shoot! It was good she’d checked. She’d have to shop after she picked up Zena. She’d cut it too close otherwise. Zena was an easygoing, patient kind of kid, but she panicked if she couldn’t see Gwen waiting for her outside the classroom door before the bell even rang—and Gwen didn’t blame her, so she made sure she was never late.
Still, having to push back the grocery shop wasn’t all bad. It left her with enough time to wet mop the kitchen and dining room’s espresso brown flooring—an almost daily necessity. The duplex’s flooring was a feature that caught her eye when she was looking to buy a place for her and the kids. Now she was less enamoured with it. It was pretty, yes, but wow, did the dark, glossy surface ever show dust and dirt of every kind. She set a timer on the stove, so she wouldn’t get caught up in something else and forget to leave in time for Zena, then grabbed the mop.
Truth was, Gwen welcomed chores of any and every kind. Busywork helped distract her from all the fears that she couldn’t quite hold at bay these days. Fears that she couldn’t do this. Couldn’t raise three kids again—three kids hurt and traumatized by their mom’s desertion and who knew what all else they’d experienced or been exposed to. And raise them by herself, at that. On a limited income . . . And then there was the obvious fact that she’d clearly failed Lily somehow—and failed her when she had a lot more energy for parenting and was much more “in the loop” with current issues and other parents. What if she failed her grandkids, too? And how could she not when she couldn’t even narrow down what she and Mick had gotten so wrong? Okay, perhaps chores weren’t a successful distraction today, after all. It would help, maybe, if she had someone to talk to about any of this. But there was no-one.
She couldn’t put it on her other two kids. For one, they were both in Vancouver—so a good sixteen-hour drive or expensive flight away. For two, this was their time to build their own lives. Ryan was just out of law school and putting in crazy hours articling at a downtown firm. Sage was in the last year of her undergrad and juggling full-time work because she wanted to do her Master’s right away. Gwen was proud of them—and they were close, texting almost daily and calling every other weekend at the very least. But their nieces and nephew weren’t their responsibility. Full stop.
And she couldn’t burden her sister Patricia, who also lived in the lower mainland—too far away to offer more than an ear, but even that felt like too much for Gwen to ask for. Trish was up to her armpits in stress of her own as she juggled her career, issues with her two teenage boys, and a rocky patch in her marriage, all while also bearing the brunt of caring for her and Gwen’s aging dad. He was still living on his own and was generally healthy enough but had given them a scare recently. He’d been hospitalized for what they thought was dementia but turned out to be dehydration—so not life threatening exactly, though the fact that he hadn’t been making sure he ate or drank enough day-to-day was very serious in itself. If anything, Gwen should do a better job of being there for Trish.
Her best friend had moved recently—to Costa Rica, of all things! And though they kept up via social media, it wasn’t the same as when they could just pop over to each other’s house for coffee. Her other friends, most of whom she’d known since elementary school, were lovely and kind—but in totally different places in life than she was. They were where she and Mick had been—anticipating empty nests, second phases of life, and retirement. They expressed sympathy about Gwen’s new role but didn’t really get it—something that might be her own fault. After all, she hadn’t really spelled anything out for them. She didn’t want them to judge Lily or think less of her. If Lily came back, got her act together, Gwen didn’t want her to have to overcome gossip.
You’re supposed to be being honest, Gwen’s brain inserted. She flinched. Okay, okay. All that was true about why she hadn’t told her friends every little detail. It was also true, however, that if the phone calls and invitations to “girls’ nights” and “wine Wednesdays” hadn’t pretty much stopped cold turkey once word got out that Gwen had three kids under ten at home again, she might’ve been more likely to share the intimate details of her life.
The stove’s timer shrieked. Gwen jumped, then relief at being yanked out of her pity party poured through her. Raising your grandkids in Lily’s absence is your choice, she reminded herself, and in a strange way, even a privilege.
As she grabbed her grocery list from the counter and her purse from the console table in the entranceway, Gwen did what she always did when sadness over Lily and accompanying doubts and insecurities tormented her. She called Pillar, Zach, and Zena’s sweet faces to mind. Doing so always gave her comfort and bolstered her resolve. She would never stop hoping that Lily turned herself around, but in the meantime, she’d be the rock in the storm that her grandkids needed. She would do her best for them and hope and pray that this time it was enough.
Hitting lock on the keypad by the front door, Gwen headed out to claim Zena.
Daniel grunted with annoyance as he climbed out from behind the steering wheel of the over-packed minivan and surveyed their new home. Ben and Ashlee had bolted from the vehicle the minute the tires stopped rolling, unlocked the front door as asked—then unhelpfully dumped the keys outside the door and disappeared inside. They were champing at the bit to explore their new digs, or—more likely—eager to fight over the three nearly identical bedrooms upstairs. Daniel would have appreciated his eleven-year-old twins to at least have offered to help bring in boxes from the van, but then again . . . After a fifteen-hour drive from Prince George that should’ve only taken seven or eight hours max, except that they’d blown a tire and had to get a tow because the spare was a dud too, they were all a little cross from too much together time.
“Chill, man. Chill,” he muttered under his breath. “It’s all gonna be okay.” And it really was. Because it had to be. He pushed his hand through his hair—and doing so reminded him he’d wanted to get a haircut before starting his new job on Monday. Rats, but nothing he could do about it now. It was a good thing most people expected IT guys to be a little more casual in appearance.
He took a deep breath, exhaled through his nose, and started hefting boxes from the van and dumping them into his newly acquired house—or half a house? What did you call owning half a duplex? Hopefully not the biggest financial mistake in his life. He could see the pros of sharing roof maintenance, etc. with someone else, and since the place was brand-new—the only finished and sold one in a brand-new subdivision that was still mostly dirt and vacant lots—hopefully, there wouldn’t be any serious maintenance needed for a while.
But what if the person who owned the other side was a nut job, an utter slob, or even just a totally nice person but one whose lifestyle didn’t jibe with his? Oh, well . . . He’d just have to wait and see and hope for the best. He’d considered renting, but rent in Greenridge was astronomical—and the vacancy rate was near zero. Besides, with all the recent changes in the kids’ lives, the sooner he could give them a sense of stability again, the better. Detached dwellings’ prices were also through the roof here. Buying the duplex was the only thing that had made financial sense, especially with his other expenses. And if his neighbor was a nightmare? Well, it wasn’t like he hadn’t lived with a nightmare before. At least this time, there’d be soundproof walls and exterior doors with locks separating them.
The bitter, inner joking brought him no pleasure. All it did was slam Erin to the front of his thoughts. The truth was that he’d loved the life they’d built together and thought she had, too. The only people more stunned and heartbroken by her double life and seemingly over-night decision to up and leave once it all came to light were Ben and Ashlee. Once his initial shock had worn off, that was what had bothered him most—and that was still what bothered him most.
Daniel could understand his wife falling out of love with him. He could even understand the lure of a new romance—okay, he couldn’t, not personally. But he intellectually comprehended that adultery was statistically responsible for twenty to forty percent of divorces in North America. Erin hated when he referred to statistics—so doing so now, even just in his own head, gave him a grim sort of satisfaction. What he couldn’t wrap his mind around—and never would—was how Erin hadn’t just left him. She’d abandoned Ben and Ashlee. For some creep on the Internet—after she was found guilty of embezzling almost a hundred thousand dollars from the non-profit she worked for. It didn’t matter how many times Daniel thought about it, it was always . . . a shock.
So yes, he mourned their old life together even as he fought to come to terms with the fact that it had never really existed the way he thought it had. Fourteen years together—twelve legally married—and he’d never truly known her. She was a completely different person from who he’d thought she was.
Daniel reached into the van’s back bench; it was empty. He went around the back of the vehicle again. Not a box to be found. He’d cleared the whole van already. Sadness and disappointment were good for something, at least. He got chores done like a workhorse these days.
Fighting to clear his head so that he’d be able to maintain an outward front of calm optimism for his kids, he paused on the front stoop before entering the house and studied his adjoined neighbor’s front entrance and yard.
Deep breath in. He’d heard Ashlee casually refer to him as “Sad Dad”the other day, like it was his actual name, and he wanted to nip that in the bud.
Deep breath out. Whoever lived next door had already made some small personal changes. Unlike the plain gray exterior door on his own unit, the neighbor’s was a vibrant turquoise. He didn’t hate it.
Deep breath in. Also, where his front yard was a small dingy rectangle of winter-dead grass, next door’s was vigorously raked and already looking green.
Breath out. Most surprising of all—and despite the fact that winter was barely past and there was every chance they could still face another snowfall before it was truly gone—tiny shoots of brilliant celadon green showed in patches in a carefully turned flower bed and around the base of a currently leafless, dormant tree. Daniel wasn’t much of a gardener himself, but his mom, dad, sister, and brother—so his entire family—were obsessed, and he couldn’t help picking up a few things. This house was barely a season old, yet the neighbor had already established crocus and narcissi. Bizarrely—and maybe a little pathetically—it made him feel a small burst of affinity for the unknown someone living next door. Was it too much to ask that in this one little thing, he’d be right? That his neighbor wouldn’t be terrible?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I hope you enjoyed this sneak preview of Something New and if you haven’t already pre-ordered yourself this fall reading treat, I hope you will! I really think you’ll love Gwen and Daniel’s story. 🥰
Claim your copy now and have it waiting for you with your morning coffee or tea on October 12th!