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No Words: Chapter 5


Why? Why did I start reading his stupid book?

It wasn’t my fault, though. Will’s publisher had supplied the organizers of this book festival with enough complimentary copies of The Moment to slip into every attendee’s swag bag. I’d found mine waiting on the bed when I checked into my room.

How could I resist thumbing casually through it?

Really, it was impossible not to, with its ridiculous cover showing—like all of Will’s books—an outrageously attractive pair of white people (a man and a woman, of course), almost but not quite kissing.

I didn’t want to start reading it. But I purposefully hadn’t brought any other books with me. Rosie’s words about her other author—the one who’d come to Little Bridge and written two whole chapters a day—kept haunting me. If I didn’t have anything to do, maybe I’d be tempted to write.

But then, right in my complimentary swag bag, I’d found a book by my nemesis. How could I resist?

And the Lazy Parrot Inn was the perfect setting in which to read a book about “one man’s journey to redemption.” It had been hard to tell from the photos on the website exactly what the hotel was going to be like. It had certainly looked nice (especially since I wasn’t paying for it), but people and places almost always look better online than they do in real life.

But I’d been delighted to discover upon our arrival that the Lazy Parrott was exactly as advertised. A lovely Victorian mansion with gingerbread trim, idly spinning ceiling fans, and deep, comfortable porch chairs, it screamed “relaxing oasis” in all the best ways. Brightly colored paper-umbrella-festooned drinks could be ordered from a tiki bar near the large, kidney-shaped pool in the center of the inn’s lush garden courtyard—a pool which was not only heated (not that it needed to be, given the island’s warm winter temperature), but also boasted a waterfall and an adjoining hot tub.

I knew the minute I saw it that the Lazy Parrot’s pool was where I was going to be spending all my free time during the festival. Not that my room wasn’t incredibly luxurious—room 202, a second-floor suite that looked out over the rooftops of downtown Little Bridge, all the way to the ocean, with a huge four-poster bed and its own Jacuzzi tub and kitchenette (plus a fully stocked minibar that included both peanut and plain M&M’s, my author snack of choice).

But the pool! The pool and the hot tub! I was going to be in them until my fingers and toes pruned.

And not because I was hiding from Will Price. No way. I was most definitely going to face him. Not only face him, but get revenge on him for what he’d done . . . or at least say something appropriately cutting to him.

Just not yet. Because I needed this break. I deserved it. I’d been working hard, not only at trying to come up with a plot for Kitty Katz #27, but at getting Dad to agree he was better off spending the winter months somewhere warm, like this place.

So it was fine for me to take some time off and float on a raft in this beautiful pool with a margarita and read Will’s incredibly crappy new book. No one could judge me for that.

And no one was, since I seemed to be the only person staying at the Parrot who’d had the common sense to think of relaxing in the pool. Garrett had disappeared into his room—102, just below mine and facing the courtyard, so I knew it had nothing like my amazing view—as soon as we’d arrived to “get some work done.”

Sure. Whatever, dude. You get right on that. I’ll be in the pool, reading The Moment.

I didn’t tell him this, of course, out of fear he might try to join me. Instead, I sunnily answered, “Of course!” when he asked if I’d meet him later in the lobby in time to catch the author bus to the festival’s first event—a cocktail meet-and-greet, followed by a sit-down dinner with donors.

But even as I’d assured him I’d be there, I hadn’t been sure I’d have the guts to actually show. And now, floating in the sun, I was even more certain. Grateful as I was even to be invited to such events—the author everyone used to love—I couldn’t help dreading them, even when they didn’t include Will Price. I, like so many writers, was horrible at making small talk, and even worse at eating and drinking while doing so.

I was hoping an hour or two of floating in the sun would help trigger what Rosie had mentioned had happened to her other author: a sudden rush of artistic inspiration, so I’d actually come up with an idea for Kitty Katz #27 that felt exciting enough to write down. Two chapters a day? I would take that in a hot New York minute.

What was happening instead was that I was getting sucked into Will Price’s insipid, highly readable prose.

Meeeeee-OW!

Unfortunately, I’d already failed rule number one of relaxing while in the tropics: leaving my phone behind. I realized this when I heard its official Kitty Katz mobile ringtone blare from the towel on which I’d left it at the side of the pool.

Meeeeee-OW!

Because of the book I was holding—the cover carefully bent back so no one would see it was Will Price’s latest—I had to paddle one-handed to reach my phone. It took me quite some time to get there.

Meeeeee-OW!

Oh, no. I’d missed a call from my dad. I quickly called him back.

“Hi, Dad, it’s me. Is everything okay?”

Dad’s voice, rough from years of singing with his folk-rock group (that had never become popular enough to earn any money, but had a large enough cult following that he remained hopeful), said calmly, “Of course everything’s okay. You’re the one who never called when you got in. I thought we had a deal? You’re always supposed to call.”

“Of course.” I winced guiltily. “Sorry, Dad. I got in okay. Guess where I am right now?”

“Hmmm, let me see. Boise, Idaho.”

Laughing, I said, “No, Dad, I told you before I left. At a book festival in the Florida Keys. But guess where I am right this minute.”

“Since it’s the Florida Keys, I’m going to guess a bar. Green Parrot in Key West? You know the boys and I once played there. Sonny got so drunk, he—”

“No. Floating on a raft in the hotel pool on Little Bridge Island, drinking a margarita.”

“Sounds terrible. Get out of there!”

“Dad, stop it.” I was still laughing. As much as my dad frustrated me sometimes, he could always make me laugh. “You know this could be your life if you’d just take my advice. Did you manage to watch the virtual tour of that place in Mount Dora?”

“Oh, I saw it.”

He did not sound pleased. Still, I barreled on, keeping my voice chipper.

“And? What did you think? It’s a nice place, right? Better than the last one.”

“Not exactly.”

“What do you mean, not exactly? This one has everything you’ve been asking for: all on one level, with a nice yard and even a detached garage for you to practice in.”

“Yeah,” my father said, “but did you look at the neighbors’ garbage cans?”

“What do you mean, the neighbors’ garbage cans?”

“After the tour, I used that Google Maps thing you showed me to zoom in on the house, and I could see the neighbors’ garbage cans,” he said. “And right there, I saw it: a Dead Head sticker.”

Oh, no. “Dad.”

“The neighbors have Grateful Dead stickers on their garbage cans! You know how I feel about jam bands.”

“Dad.” I sighed. Suddenly my nice, relaxing time in the sun didn’t seem so relaxing. “I’m sure those Google Map photos are really old. The people who own those garbage cans probably don’t even live there anymore. Mount Dora is a lovely town, I’ve been there. They have tons of arts and folk music festivals there, and the average seasonal temperature is seventy-five degrees. It’s a very charming—”

“No, I don’t think so. I think I’ll just stay in New York.” Dad started to cough, which unfortunately he’d begun doing all too often lately as soon as the temperature in the city neared the freezing mark. “It’s cold, but I know all my neighbors, and they respect serious music. And there are festivals here in New York, too, you know.”

“Dad, are you sure it’s the stickers, or the fact that you’re too stubborn to let your daughter buy a house for you? Because you know what Mom would say about that.”

“Oh, she’d kick my rear end for being a chauvinist pig!” Dad chuckled. “So of course it isn’t that. But I really do think you should save your money, sweetheart.”

“Dad, I have plenty of money. I want to spend some of it on you. Nothing would make me happier.”

“But that’s silly. You need to save it for when you get married and have kids of your own.”

Like that was happening anytime soon. At this point I was about as likely to get married and have kids as Melanie West, whose husband Johnny “Ace” Kane had (accidentally? Or on purpose?) run over and killed while smuggling moonshine in the first chapter of The Moment. The first chapter! Will seemed to like to get his trauma into his books early.

“What if I don’t want to get married and have kids?” I asked. “You know, Dad, for a musician, you really are awfully closed-minded. Has it ever occurred to you that the millions of people who love the Grateful Dead might actually be—”

“Um, sorry to interrupt.”

I looked up to see a petite Asian woman with short, purple hair standing by the edge of the pool. She was wearing a pretty pink dress coupled with a necklace made of very lethal-looking—but plastic—daggers.

“It’s almost time for the author bus to dinner,” she said, pointing at the face of her smart watch (which of course I was too far away to see). “Are you going to get out of there and get ready, or are you going to wear your swimsuit to the party?”

“Bern!” I nearly fell off my raft in my haste to paddle to the side. “Dad, I gotta go.”

“I’ll talk to you later, kid. Let me know how the rest of your festival goes.” He hung up.

“Bernadette!” I held out my arms for a welcome hug. “I’m so glad to see you!”

“I’m glad to see you, too, but not that glad.” Bernadette took a quick few steps away. “You’re going to get me all wet, too, and I’m in my dress-up clothes.”

I laughed. For Bernadette, anything that wasn’t yoga pants and a T-shirt was “dress-up clothes.” I felt the same way, for the most part.

I’d known whip-smart and tougher-than-she-looked Bernadette for ages. Though we lived on opposite sides of the country, we texted nearly every day and saw each other several times a year at various book festivals. The author of multiple extremely popular young-adult series, Bernadette’s most recent featured a teenaged female assassin who lived in a far-off galaxy. Ergo, the knife necklace.

“When did you get here?” she asked.

“A few hours ago. You?”

“Early this morning. I took the red-eye to Miami from SFO, then a little puddle jumper from Miami to here. I’ve already had a trolley tour of the town, a tasting at the rum distillery, and bought a beautiful painting from a pink-haired artist named Bree in some gallery down the street. This is the best day off I’ve had in ages.”

“Really?”

“Yes, are you kidding? I just handed in my latest revision, May’s finally getting the hang of potty training, Sophie started kindergarten, and we’re finally refinishing the wood floors. Everything has just been drama, drama, drama.”

I grinned. Sophie was my goddaughter, and even though we weren’t related by blood, she seemed to have taken after me. Everything with Sophie was either brilliant or a disaster.

“I love that house and both my girls to bits, but God! I’m glad to let Jen be in charge for the weekend.” Bernadette’s anesthesiologist spouse, Jen, was my dream partner. Unfailingly supportive and cheerful, Jen earned a steady income and could also cook and write emergency prescriptions. “It’s so good to see you.”

“You, too. How long has it been? Decatur Book Festival?”

“That’s it. God, that was a blast. I thought for sure we were going to get kicked out of that hotel. Anyway, what are you still doing in the pool? I know how you hate itineraries, but the meet-and-greet is in half an hour. You’re going to be late for the author bus.”

I shrugged, feeling another twinge of guilt. I never looked at festival itineraries if I didn’t have to. I enjoyed living life on the edge when I wasn’t at home, bound by my normal routine of waking-writing-eating-sleeping (or not-writing, as the case may be).

Besides, I knew if Bernadette was going to be around, I didn’t have to. She was such a take-charge kind of person, she’d tell me everything I needed to know—and what I didn’t, too.

“Yeah, I don’t think I’m going to make it to the meet-and-greet,” I said.

“What?” Bernadette stared down at me in shock. “What do you mean? You have to go to the meet-and-greet, Jo.”

“Yeah.” I watched as the hotel’s resident cat, a gray tabby just out of kittenhood, found a small brown lizard and pounced on it, only to have it dart easily away to safety. “It’s just that Rosie said she knows an author who came here and got really inspired to write. So I’m waiting for that to kick in.”

“But there’ll be free alcohol. You and I always go to the events where they’re serving free alcohol!”

“I know. But it’s not mandatory that we attend.”

“Of course it’s not mandatory. But it’s free booze! And they flew us here first-class, didn’t they?” Bernadette had on her Mom Face—the one she always wore when Jen called to say that one of their kids was acting up. I realized I was about to be schooled. “They’re putting us up in this amazing hotel. They’re paying us a really generous stipend for what, a few hours of work? There’s a panel and signing tomorrow and then another one on Sunday. It’s hardly labor intensive. And the meet-and-greet is at some rich donor’s mansion. Don’t you want to see inside some rich donor’s super-fancy mansion? There’ll probably be some gross catered food we can make fun of. You know how much you love making fun of gross catered food.”

“Yeah. I know. It’s just that . . .”

“It’s just that what?”

“It’s just that Will Price is here.”

“Here?” Bernadette gasped and glanced around the hotel’s pool area in horror as if Will Price might come leaping out of the bushes at any moment.

“No, not here. I meant here on the island. He’s coming to the festival.”

Bernadette’s eyes widened. She knew how I felt about Will—and she knew why I felt that way, too. She’d been at the con where he’d said the thing that he’d said.

“No.” She shook her head in disbelief. “No way. I thought your agent checked and said he was going to be in—”

“Well, Rosie was wrong.” I stared glumly down at my margarita. The plastic cup was now empty. “I just saw him at the airport.”

“Oh, well, that doesn’t mean anything. He lives here, doesn’t he? Maybe he was—”

“No, I checked. His name’s been added to the festival website. He’s definitely going to be at all the events. And did you look in your swag bag? There’s a free copy of The Moment in it.”

“Oh, God.” Bernadette looked appropriately skeeved out. “What are you going to do?”

I pointed at the raft I was floating on. “Doing it. Going to stay right here, where it’s safe, except for when I have to do a panel or signing.” I did not add that I’d be reading The Moment to find out if Johnny ever fessed up to Melanie about offing her husband. I actually didn’t care about that. Very much.

Bernadette pressed her lips together. This was always a clear sign that she was entering full mommy mode.

“No,” she said, shaking her head until her purple bangs swayed. “No way. You are not doing this. You are not hiding from some man.”

Oh, jeez. Here came the not-so-fun part of Bernadette’s otherwise great personality. She always got this way whenever I refused to confront someone. My steak was a little too underdone, but I didn’t want to send it back? Bernadette would fuss until I did. Water glasses on the table not getting refilled quickly enough, but it was clear the waitstaff was in the weeds? Bernadette was always ready to call the manager, whereas I, who’d paid my way through college waitressing, felt that was unfair.

Now she was going full-on ballistic with my plan to avoid Will Price all weekend.

“Especially some man who dissed you!” she cried. “Not just you, but the entirety of children’s literature. You are climbing out of that water and getting dressed and coming to this meet-and-greet with me if I have to drag you out of there.”

“Okay, okay,” I said, already starting to paddle to the pool’s steps. “Fine. But I’m not going to talk to him.”

“Of course you are.” Bernadette glared as I wrapped myself in a towel. “You’re also going to look gorgeous and unobtainable and make him regret every single one of his life choices, while mentioning to everyone who’ll listen that the reason your books have been selling so successfully for so many years in so many countries is because they inspire hope while also offering comfort with their gentle life lessons and happy endings, something Will Price’s books decidedly do not do. Now go get changed before you make us late for the author bus.”

“Fine,” I said. “Okay.”

But the truth was, in that moment I was the one who was regretting many of my life choices . . . especially the one where I’d agreed to come to Little Bridge Island in the first place.


The Moment by Will Price

Never in my life had I seen a woman more beautiful. I’m not talking about the conventional kind of beauty. She was no movie starlet, starving herself to fit into the fashion of the day. Her beauty was the kind that came from the inside, shining through those blue eyes with wit and intelligence. The warmth of her smile could light up a cityscape. The fact that she smiled often, and in my direction, was enough to make me realize how lucky I was . . . until I remembered what I’d done.

When she found out, she would never smile again . . . at least not at me.


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