Falling fast, p.1
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OTHER BOOKS BY AURORA ROSE REYNOLDS
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FEELING MY CELL PHONE in the front pocket of my apron vibrate once again, I pull it out. When I see it’s the same number that has called me at least five times in the last two hours, unease fills my stomach. No one ever calls me, so something must have happened. Looking toward the front of the small classroom, I wait until Maya’s eyes meet mine and as soon as I get her attention, I point toward the door, letting her know I’m going to step outside for a minute. After she lifts her chin, I squat down so that I’m eye level with the five kids gathered around me in a semicircle. “I’ll be right back, guys. Just keep painting, and if you need anything, ask Miss Maya,” I say quietly so I don’t disturb the rest of the students.
“Okay, Miss Gia,” Ben, one of my favorites, agrees.
Patting the top of his strawberry blond head, I stand then head toward the door. Leaning back against the wall once I’m in the hall, I press send on the number that has been calling me and wait for someone to answer.
“Hello,” the voice of an unfamiliar woman greets me after the third ring.
“Hi, this is Gia Caro. Someone from this number has been calling me.”
“Oh, thank God. Ned, it worked. You found her,” she says, sounding relieved, and I hear her moving around then hear her tell someone on her end that she will be right back. “Hi, Gia. My name’s Nina. Me and my husband live next door to your Grandma.”
“Grandma?” I whisper as nausea turns my stomach and pain blooms in my chest. “My grandma’s dead.”
Clearing my throat, I hold my phone a little tighter. “My grandma passed away over ten years ago.”
“Oh dear,” she murmurs, and I hear her moving around some more. “Is your grandma Mrs. Genevria Ricci?”
“Oh dear,” I listen to her pull in a breath. “Your grandma is very much alive,” she tells me after a moment, and my back slides down the wall and my ass hits the floor as my feet inch out from under me.
“I…” A thousand questions lodge themselves in my throat.
“Gia, are you there?”
“Yeah, I’m here,” I finally get out.
“I don’t know how to tell you this, darlin’, but your grandma’s not doing so well.”
Her words are like acid burning my already sensitive flesh, and it takes every ounce of willpower I have not to scream at the top of my lungs. “What’s wrong with her?”
“She’s not been herself for a while now. She was diagnosed with dementia a few years ago, but over the last year, she’s been forgetful and sometimes unaware, like she doesn’t know what’s going on around her. Ned—Ned’s my husband—he and I believe she needs someone to take care of her full-time.”
“I’ll be there,” I say without thinking. “It will take me a couple days to get things sorted out here, but I will be there. Can you keep an eye on her a little longer?”
“Of course we can.” She pauses, then her voice is softer as she continues, “She’s missed you.”
Guilt and regret wash over me, but I push that aside for now. I’ll have plenty of time to deal with those emotions later. Right now, I need to focus on what I need to do. “I’ll let you know when I’m on my way.”
“All right, dear,” she agrees quietly before I hang up and clutch the phone to my chest.
Leaning my head back against the wall, I close my eyes and breathe in through my nose so I don’t cry.
“Gia.” Opening my eyes, I tip my head down and find Maya with her head sticking out of a crack in the door. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, sorry.” I push up off the ground and walk back into the class in a daze.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” she asks, following me.
“Yeah,” I lie. “Do you mind keeping an eye on my kids for a few minutes while I go talk to Jana?”
“Sure.” She bites the inside of her cheek, studying me with worry in her eyes.
I like Maya; she’s only been here for a few weeks, but the kids already adore her, which to me says everything about the kind of person she is. Kids can read people. They can usually tell what type of person someone is, even when that person is pretending to be someone they aren’t.
Giving her what I hope is a reassuring smile, I leave the class and head down the hall toward the office at the front of the building. Day Dreamers Daycare is one of the bigger daycares in Chicago. We have seven classes and a nursery, with over one hundred kids in all. I’ve worked here for the last five years, since the day I graduated from college with my degree in early childhood development. My plan was to teach in the public school system, but since starting here, I haven’t wanted to leave.
As I get closer to the office, the smell of lavender seeps into my senses. Jana, the owner, is always burning some kind of herbal scent to help her relax, think more clearly, or be more energized. She swears by the power of her infuser and has tried to convince me to get my own more than once, but I still have yet to buy into the hype. As soon as I turn the corner, I see her sitting at her desk with her eyes glued to her computer, her dark red hair up in a ponytail and her glasses pushed up on top of her head.
“Hey, you.” She turns in her chair, smiling at me after I knock on her open door to get her attention.
“Do you have a minute?” I ask, walking in and taking a seat across from her.
“If you’re going to tell me you’re quitting, you need to stand back up and leave.” She points toward the door laughing, and a fresh wave of tears fills my eyes. “Oh, God. Are you quitting?” she questions, sounding horrified.
“I need to leave town for a while, and I’m not sure how long I will be gone,” I admit regretfully, trying to wipe the tears that are now streaming down my cheeks.
“What happened? Is everything okay?” She stands, bringing a box of Kleenex around to where I’m sitting and taking a seat next to me.
Pulling a tissue from the box, I wipe my eyes then break down and tell her about the phone call I just received.
Sitting across from my stepmom later that evening, I wait for her to react. I wait for her to answer my question and admit she has been lying to me, that she kept me from the only living connection I have to my mom. Even though
When my mom died and my dad married her, I tried to understand how he could spend twenty years of his life with my mom then move on so quickly after she passed away. I didn’t get it, but I loved my dad, so I supported him. I even tried to have a relationship with Colleen, because I knew it would make him happy. It never worked; she was never interested in getting to know me, and my dad was always oblivious to the lack of a bond between us, a bond that never developed even after my dad passed away when I was sixteen.
“Why did you tell me she died?” I repeat the question I asked as soon as we got seated at our table in the fancy restaurant she chose for us to meet at. Like always, she looks perfect. Her blonde hair is back in a tight bun, her makeup sophisticated, and her suit feminine but powerful. She’s nothing like my mom, who wore floral floor-length skirts with colorful tops, and so much silver jewelry that you could always hear her coming from a mile away. I never got how my dad could go from one end of the spectrum to the other, from someone who was full of energy and life to someone who always appeared as cold as a dead fish.
“She wasn’t right in the head,” she finally says, folding her napkin on her lap and picking up her glass of water, taking a sip and still avoiding looking at me.
“She’s my grandmother.”
“She wanted you to live with her.” Her eyes meet mine and I watch her lips press tightly together. “Imagine living with that woman.” Her lip curls up and I shake my head.
Her opinion doesn’t surprise me. She’s always been judgmental; she’s always thought she was better than everyone. My grandmother, just like my mom, was or maybe still is different than most women nowadays. Grandma grew her own vegetables, made jam when certain fruits were in season, sewed her own clothes, and knitted her own sweaters, and she started to teach me how to do all those things too after my mom passed away. I thought I would have her to lean on after my dad died when I was sixteen, but was told the news she had also passed away a week after my father’s funeral.
“You should be thanking me for saving you from that. What kind of life would that have been?”
“Thanking you?” I whisper in disbelief and disgust.
“I didn’t have to accept responsibility for you after your father passed away.”
“You’re right. You didn’t. But you also would have been out of a lot of money if you hadn’t. I read the will; I know part of the stipulations for you receiving money was you taking over custody of me,” I remind her, and her nostrils flare.
When she married my father, she had nothing. She may have dressed in fancy clothes, talked like she had traveled the world, and had expensive taste, but she didn’t come from money or have any when she married my father. She was his secretary, that’s how they met, and I don’t even really know if my dad was having an affair with her when my mother was still alive.
“Your father and I were married. What was his became mine.”
“That still doesn’t explain to me why you kept me from my grandmother, why you told me she was dead when she was very much alive.”
“Your father wouldn’t have wanted you living with that woman or in that town.”
“You don’t know that,” I respond quietly.
She sits up a little taller. “I do, and I did what I had to do in order to honor his wishes. I knew if she told you she wanted you to move to Tennessee after your dad died that you would have gone. You would have gone there, dropped out of school, and ended up pregnant, living in a trailer with five kids and a husband who stepped out on you every chance he got. I saved you from that life.”
“Are you insane?” I ask, wanting to reach across the table and wrap my hands around her slim throat.
“Your father told me all about that place. He told me how much he hated it.”
“He never hated it. He fell in love with my mom in that town.”
“And he wished he wouldn’t have,” she says like she’s telling me what color the sky is or where she bought her shoes.
The statement is casual, but the pain it leaves behind is devastating, because I know she’s telling the truth. I overheard my father say more than once after my mother’s death that he wished he hadn’t fallen in love with my mom. I thought it was because he didn’t think he could push past the pain of losing her after she was gone, but maybe it was something else. Maybe he never really loved her at all.
“I don’t want to fight with you, Gia,” she sighs, rubbing her forehead like talking to me is too much for her to handle.
“I’m leaving town in a couple days. My grandma needs me. I don’t know when I’ll be back.”
“You’re an adult now. You can do what you like. I can’t stop you.” She waves my statement away like it means nothing to her. Like I mean nothing to her.
It shouldn’t hurt but it still does.
“Right.” I push back from the table and stand. I don’t look at her as I walk away; I’m too focused on staying upright. My legs shake as I head through the crowded restaurant toward the door, but surprisingly I make it out to my car without falling to my knees in the parking lot. Once I’m in my Jeep and behind the wheel, I close my eyes and drop my head back to the headrest behind me. I wish my mom were here to give me advice and tell me everything is going to be okay, and I wish my dad were here so I could yell at him and tell him what an asshole he is for leaving me with that bitch.
“Pull it together, Gia. You’ve got shit to do,” I whisper to myself.
Opening my eyes I start up my car and head home. As I pull into the driveway at my house thirty minutes later, I smile when I see my best friend has already made it home. Shutting down the engine, I grab my bag then get out and slam the door, making sure to set the alarm so my Jeep doesn’t get jacked, which has happened in the past. I live in an okay neighborhood, but crime happens all the time around here, especially car thefts.
“Took you long enough to get here,” my best friend since childhood, Natasha, greets me, holding open the screen door to our place with one hand, while holding a glass of wine in the other. Looking at her, I know she’s been home for a while, since she’s already taken off her makeup, put her ash-blonde hair up in a bun, and switched out her work clothes for sweats and a baggy hoodie.
“I went and met up with Colleen,” I say, walking past her and taking the glass of wine from her hand as I go.
“Yeah, what did the fish have to say about all of this?” she asks, using the nickname she gave Colleen after she got her lips done when we were twelve.
“She said she saved me from having five kids and a husband that cheats on me.”
“Shut the fuck up. She did not,” she growls, going to the fridge and grabbing the bottle of wine.
“She did.” I plop down on the couch, taking a huge gulp from the glass in my hand before continuing. “She also told me that my dad wanted her to keep me from my grandma.”
“Why would he want that?” She frowns, picking up the remote and turning off the TV.
“I don’t know, but I believe her. He never really got along with grandma, and after my mom passed away, their relationship only got worse.”
Bringing the bottle of wine with her, she comes over to the couch and takes a seat next to me. She then takes the glass, fills it back up, and hands it back to me. “But to tell you that your grandma is dead…? That’s extreme, even for her.”
“I know,” I sigh, taking another gulp of wine, hoping the alcohol will kick in and the tension in my shoulders will ease.
“So you’re really going to Tennessee?”
Meeting her gaze, my eyes water. “Yeah, I’m really going.”
“How long will you be gone?”
“I don’t know. However long I need to be there.” I shrug. “Nina says she has dementia, and I don’t know how bad she is or what I will need to do.”
“You just got a promotion,” she reminds me—news I got just a few weeks ago. Jana offered me my
Coming out of my thoughts, I bite my lip and shake my head. “She told me I’ll have a job whenever I get back, but she can’t guarantee me my own class, since it wouldn’t be fair to whoever takes my position.”
“Dude, you’ve worked so hard.”
“I know, but it’s my grandma. We use to be close, really, really close, and she needs me. My mom would expect me to go, and I would hate myself if I didn’t.”
“That’s true,” she agrees, sounding sad, and I notice tears in her eyes that match the tears filling mine. “I’m just being selfish, because I’m going to miss you.”
“I’m going to miss you too, but I’ll be back.” I wipe away at the tears on my cheeks with the sleeve of my sweater.
“You better come back.”
“I will… well, unless I find some hot cowboy and fall in love,” I joke, and we both laugh, since we know that is never going to happen.
“If you find a hot cowboy, you better make sure he has a hot friend. We have a plan, remember?”
“How could I ever forget?” I ask, resting my head on her shoulder, remembering the deal we made when we were seven. That deal being we’ll find guys who are best friends, get engaged at the same time, married, buy houses next door to each other, and then get pregnant so our kids can grow up being best friends just like us.
“I can’t believe you’re going to Tennessee. Do they even drive there, or do they get around on horseback?”
“You’re an idiot.” I close my eyes, smiling, and then whisper, “I love you.”
“You too, always, and whenever you need me, I will be there.”
“Thank you,” I get out through the tightness in my throat. Natasha has been the one constant in my life since I can remember. She’s the one who sat with me at my mother’s funeral, holding my hand. Then later, when my dad was diagnosed with the tumor that took his life, she was always right there with me, going to the hospital and sitting next to his bed until he took his last breath. She’s my family, just like I’m hers.
Falling Fast by Aurora Rose Reynolds / Romance & Love / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes