Release Week Sneak Peek: Flexible
If Rachel Cooper had known that directing the school drama would lead to so much actual drama, she would have passed on the entire experience. But since directing a play was written into her yearly teaching contract, she wasn’t exactly allowed that option. Still, she liked to think that with a hint of foresight, she might have saved herself the grief and opted out.
After her idyllic summer road trip, she was not emotionally prepared for the jarring experience of diving full-force back into her life. Although she’d put off coming home as long as possible, she could no longer delay the inevitable. The start of a new school year loomed close on the horizon, bringing in its train a full juggernaut of responsibilities.
At least she had friends to help share the load.
Lynn fanned herself with a Stu’s Diner menu and scanned the room for their server. They had Clark this time, the cute new waiter with dimples and an unstoppable cowlick. “Have you chosen a play yet?” she asked.
“No.” Rachel frowned at her friend. “I’ve been putting it off until school starts and I know how many kids actually want to try out. There’s no use letting it be A Christmas Carol all over again.” She sighed, remembering the time she’d chosen a classic but cumbersome script with more parts than available players. Even with doubling, she had been forced to coerce unwilling students into joining the cast. A few good-spirited faculty members had also been pressed into service, making cameo appearances just to help her out.
“Never again,” Rachel intoned sagely, blowing steam from the surface of her coffee.
Next to Lynn, Ann grunted and rolled her eyes in memory of the A Christmas Carol incident. As Rachel’s sister, ex-roommate, and closest confidant, Ann wasn’t afforded the luxury of forgetting.
Lynn continued to fan herself. “What’s up with this place today?”
Rachel glanced around the diner, seeing the same brick walls, messy chalkboard announcements, and harried wait staff as always. “What do you mean?”
“It’s about a million degrees in here.” Lynn downed several gulps of ice water. “It’s even too hot for coffee.”
Rachel raised an index finger. “First of all, it’s never too hot for coffee. Second, it’s not even that bad.” She paused. “Although it is hot outside.”
Ann nodded. “I love my job, but I really do hate this time of year.” August and September, typically the hottest months in Florida’s subtropical climate, made Ann’s outdoor work as a horse trainer somewhat more challenging than usual.
“I’ll drink to that.” Rachel clinked her coffee mug against her sister’s un-raised glass of sweet tea. “I don’t think I’ll ever be ready for tomorrow.”
Lynn wiped some perspiration from her upper lip and took another drink of water.
Ann refilled Lynn’s glass. “Don’t be so dramatic. This is probably your one hundredth first day of school.”
“That’s a bit of an exaggeration. But at any rate, it doesn’t get any easier.”
Rachel leveled a narrowed gaze across the table at her sister. “What?”
“First days are the easiest days by far.”
“And you know this because of your vast teaching experience?”
Ann rolled her eyes. “No, but I was a student once too. I had plenty of first days of my own. Everybody had new books and pencils and lots of paper. The teachers were shiny and well-dressed and nobody misbehaved on the first day. At least, not that I recall.”
Ann had a point. Rachel chose to ignore it. “Here comes Clark,” she told Lynn. “You can ask him if the air conditioner is broken.” Although clearly it wasn’t.
Clark placed three plates on the table without needing to be reminded of who ordered what, his ready smile bracketed by twin dimples deep enough to sink an index finger into up to the first knuckle. Not that Rachel ever imagined doing that.
“Why is the thermostat set to boiling?” Lynn asked him.
“I’ll go check.” He departed with the trademark good humor and sideways smile that had won their hearts.
Lynn cut her chicken into tiny squares. “Have you settled into your new place?” she asked Rachel.
Rachel nodded, her mouth so full of bacon and eggs that her cheeks actually bulged out a little. “Pretty much.” She covered her mouth with her hand lest she accidentally spray the others.
“Slow down there, tiger,” Ann said, “I don’t think your food is going anywhere.”
“I’ve just missed this.” Rachel gestured with her knife and fork at her plate, the two women sitting across from her, and the restaurant in general.
“Well, eight weeks is a long time to be on the road.” Lynn took a delicate bite and washed it down with the last of her water. She lifted their empty water pitcher in the air until Clark, in the act of delivering plates across the room, spotted her and dipped his chin in acknowledgment.
Rachel gave a mighty swallow, almost choking as the overambitious mass worked its way down. Eyes watering, she reached for her coffee.
Ann shook her head and spooned oatmeal into her mouth, watching Rachel as if she were a lab experiment in progress. “You never learn.”
“My new place is really nice,” Rachel said, gasping a little as the giant wad of food made its way down her esophagus. Then, when Lynn and Ann raised their eyebrows in tandem, she said, “It’s very—” she searched for the right word, “—clean.”
Ann frowned. “Of course it’s clean. It’s brand new. But that doesn’t mean it’s nice.”
“It’s nice,” Rachel insisted. “I’m glad I moved there.”
“For now,” Ann commented.
“Don’t be such a pessimist.”
“I’m a realist,” Ann said. “I give it six months.”
Rachel shook her head. “I’ve already moved twice this year, and I don’t plan to move again. Besides, this place is perfect for me. It’s small, the price is right, and it’s a little closer to work—but not too close.”
“First of all, you’ve only moved once this year. We”—Ann gestured with her spoon back and forth between Lynn and herself—“moved you the first time—”
“Along with Alex and Ethan,” Lynn put in helpfully.
“Along with Alex and Ethan,” Ann amended, nodding. “So technically you’ve only moved once.”
“Hey. I packed all that stuff into boxes while on crutches and moved and unpacked it all by myself over this last week, dealing with all the spiders that came out of the boxes, so I think that counts as having moved twice, actually.”
“You didn’t move it all by yourself,” Ann reminded her.
“Of course not. I couldn’t exactly lift all of the furniture—”
“I rest my case.” Ann lifted her bowl, tilted it sideways, and rotated it in circles to scrape out the last of the oatmeal.
“Now listen—” Rachel’s heated rebuttal was interrupted by Clark, who appeared next to the table and plunked a fresh pitcher of water next to Lynn.
“Bless you.” She poured herself a fresh glass and sucked half of the contents down in one giant draught.
“I just checked,” Clark told Lynn, “and the thermostat is set the same as always. Maybe you just got overheated on the way in.”
Ann and Rachel nodded along, glancing toward the over-bright windows. It was, after all, Saturday afternoon in South Florida, mid-August. It was an absolute scorcher.
Ann sighed. “From now until the end of October, it’s nothing but heat waves, afternoon thunderstorms, mud, and fire ants for me.”
Lynn swiped a hand across the back of her neck. “More like from now until November. We don’t get our first break in the weather until close to Thanksgiving.”
“Sometimes it’s the end of October,” Rachel said.
“It would be nice if the break in the weather comes earlier this year,” Lynn said. “That would be helpful as we get ready.”
“Get ready?” Rachel asked, taken aback. What had she missed?
Lynn and Ann made eye contact.
“Shall we tell her?” Lynn asked.
Ann rolled her shoulders and rubbed the back of her neck. “I was sort of hoping to be somewhere else when you told her.”
“Told me what?”
Ann leaned over and used her fork to spear a pineapple cube from Rachel’s fruit cup. “Like maybe in the next county.”
Rachel’s gaze darted back and forth between the two of them. “Why do I get the feeling I’m not going to like this?”
“It’ll be good for you,” Lynn assured her. “And I promise you’ll like it.”
Ann choked on a mouthful of fruit.
“Eventually,” Lynn amended.
She wouldn’t. She was certain now. “Just tell me.”
“OK, but don’t interrupt.”
Rachel lifted her coffee and took a long, fortifying gulp. “I’m ready.”
Lynn put down her silverware and laid her forearms against the table, leaning forward and speaking conspiratorially. “I registered the three of us for a race.”
“A what?” Rachel’s voice climbed the scales.
“It’s just a 5K.”
“And don’t worry. It’s only a ‘fun run.’” Lynn sketched air quotes around the last two words. “So you don’t need to feel any pressure.”
Lynn laughed. “You don’t need to worry about finishing under a certain time or anything. I already paid the registration fee, so you don’t have to worry about that. It’s in December, which I know sounds like a long time from now, but you’ve never run before, so it would be good if you got on a training schedule as soon as the heat breaks.”
Ann was absorbed with seeing how full she could fill her cup of ice water before it overflowed. Without looking up, she said, “I think she’s stuck.”
“I can’t believe what I’m hearing.” Rachel spluttered. “You registered me for a race? Without my knowledge? Have you forgotten that my right ankle still doesn’t bend properly?”
“I told you not to skip physical therapy,” Lynn tut-tutted.
“I had to take a road trip!”
Ann put down the water pitcher. “Not for the whole summer, you didn’t.”
“Rachel,” Lynn interrupted, reaching over to pat Rachel’s hand, “this will be good for you. I promise. I’ll help you train, and I’ll work with you, and we’ll see what we can do about that stiff ankle. Ann will help, too.” She glanced sideways at Ann. “I mean, Ann will probably help—”
“This was your idea,” Ann told Lynn. She leaned back in her seat and folded her arms. “I’ll run with you guys on race day, but I’m not training with her. I already get enough melodrama at our early-morning workouts.” She turned her eyes to Rachel. “Which, by the way, Coach Donovan’s been asking when you were planning to start showing up again.”
“Tell him I want to get the school year started first.” Not to mention loosen up her ankle and regain a measure of flexibility. If he found out she’d skipped physical therapy, Coach Donovan would flip.
Ann nodded in acceptance of this timeline and ate more of Rachel’s fruit.
Lynn gestured toward Rachel’s stiff leg. “I’ll e-mail you a link to some stretches,” she said. “You’ll be flexible enough in no time.”
Rachel rubbed her hands down the sides of her face, dragging at her cheeks and making her eyes look ghoulish. “Why is my life like this?”
Lynn laughed. “Don’t worry. You’re going to love training. Running releases endorphins—endorphins which you, Miss Rachel, are certainly not getting any other way.”
Rachel froze, arrested. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You know exactly what it means,” Ann said. “Unless you would like us to elaborate?”
“No, that’s fine. I’m fine, thank you.”
“That’s what I thought.”
* * * * *
Flexible: A Novel of Mystery, Drama, Rehabilitation, Spiders, and the Occasional Head Wound releases Friday, January 8, 2018, through Pelican Book Group in e-book format. If you pre-order now, the book will automatically appear on your device sometime after midnight on release day.
Need something to tide you over until then?
Check out my other releases currently available on Amazon:
- Collapsible: A Novel of Friendship, Broken Bones, Coffee, Shenanigans, and the Occasional Murder (e-book only)
- The Proper Care and Feeding of Singles: How Pastors, Marrieds, and Church Leaders Effectively Support Solo Members (paperback and e-book)
- Murder on Birchardville Hill (e-book only)
And for those who have been wondering, here's how to give an e-book as a gift.