“Inspiration doesn’t always come to you, child. Sometimes, you have to go out and find it.”

Liza Blackburn had long ago given up on being an artist as life took precedence over dreams. When her beloved grandmother passes away, she leaves Liza a generous, life-changing inheritance. Except it comes with a catch. One that takes her out of her comfort zone and drops her in a remote cottage in rural Ohio.

She has one goal—survive the year and get back home. Derrick Lowe’s life is simple, and he likes it that way. The last thing he wants to deal with is the hot mess granddaughter of his adopted grandmother moving in next door. When she does, he pushes his wants to the side and embraces his sense of duty. It is only a year after all.

But a lot can change in a year as Liza learns that home is relative, and Derrick finds his life might need a little messiness, after all.

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Liza Blackburn hadn’t realized she’d nearly stopped painting. Not until her grandmother strolled around her studio and studied the canvases stacked along the wall. She stopped, crossed her arms, and scowled at Liza. “Where are the new ones?”

Liza looked around the room—the small second bedroom of her apartment that had served as her studio for years—and back at her grandmother. “There are some new ones in here.”

“No ma’am. Not one of these is new. I’ve seen them all.”

Liza considered her grandmother’s comment for a moment, trying to pinpoint the newest piece of artwork.

She landed on a painting of an elderly couple in the park. “There,” she pointed, confident. “That one is new.”

Her grandmother shook her head. “No, child. I saw that last year. Beautiful. Reminded me of your grandpa and me. Had he lived long enough to get old. But definitely not new.”

Panicked, Liza searched the stacks of canvases again, mentally picturing herself painting them. Her eyes wandered to the table that held her paints, the splotches of color long dried, and thought back to the elderly couple in the park. She visualized herself, sitting on the park bench, sketching them in her pad as they smiled at each other. Their heads together as they talked.

Her brain pieced together a timeline until the realization settled onto her like a heavy, wet blanket. She’d stopped by that park after her niece Chloe’s second birthday party, in need of a few moments of quiet to offset the chaos of screaming kids she’d just survived. Chloe was now nearly five.

Had she gone almost three years without painting? Three years without finishing a piece? She had sketches in her pad. She knew that. It’s what she did when she was bored or if something inspiring caught her eye. Always safely tucked in her bag, just in case inspiration struck. But when was the last time she bought a new one? She couldn’t remember.

While Liza was lost in her own thoughts, her grandmother continued around the studio. She stopped in front of a painting of a red fox in snow Liza had completed after a late-night binge of nature shows. “This one. I want to buy this one. It will look good in my living room.”

“Grandma, you can just have it,” Liza started but was cut off by an irritated tsk, tsk.

“I said I’ll buy it, child. And I intend to do just that.” A warm, brittle hand rested on Liza’s shoulder. “Come on. I need some tea.”

Liza followed her to the kitchen and sat on the bar stool while her grandmother pulled the tea kettle from the cupboard, filled it and put it on the stove. While it was heating, she pulled out two mugs and the box of tea bags, opened two bags and put one in each mug. “You know, if you would visit me at the cottage, there are all kinds of things you can paint there.”

Liza laughed. “I can’t help it you decided to winter in Ohio. No offense, Grandma, but who does that?”

Her grandmother turned to her and leaned her back against the counter. “Me, I guess. I like the cold and snow. Reminds me of my childhood. Though I must admit, these old bones are revolting against me.”

“And I like warm and sunny.”

“Well, the offer always stands.”

A little quiver of guilt set in. It wasn’t like they didn’t spend a lot of time together. Her grandmother was in Florida nearly as much as she was in Ohio. But still. “I’ll try to get some time off next winter. I promise,” Liza said.

That seemed to please her grandmother, who switched topics. “When’s the last time you left this place? Went on a walk in the park? Went out with friends? Painted?”

“It’s been a while, I guess. Things have been busy at work. By the time I get home, I just kind of collapse. Weekends, I don’t know. I just…” Her grandmother waited while Liza processed her thoughts. “I don’t know. I guess I just haven’t felt much like painting lately. It’s really a hobby now, anyway. It’s not like anyone sees them but you.”

A short, irritated huff escaped her grandmother. “And whose fault is that?”

Liza braced herself for the lecture, one she’d heard countless times. Over the years, her grandmother had needled her, sent her information on galleries looking for artwork, pushed her to put it out there. And she’d listened politely and nodded in agreement when needed. But she knew something her grandmother didn’t—her art wasn’t good enough. As loud as her grandmother’s voice was, her former art professor’s voice was louder. Constantly criticizing. Constantly condescending. Where her grandmother looked at those pieces and gushed over them, she saw the mistakes, the areas she could improve.

She was saved by the high-pitched whistle of the tea kettle. Her grandmother turned back to her original task, poured the boiling water over the tea bags, and placed the steaming cup and saucer in front of Liza. While Liza dunked the tea bag in the water and watched it turn from murky to brown, her grandmother sat down next to her and did the same.

“Inspiration doesn’t always come to you, child. Sometimes, you have to go out and find it.”

“I know, Grandma.”

“I mean, you’re not getting any younger.”

Liza gasped. “Grandma! I’m only thirty-three.”

Her grandmother shrugged. “Time moves faster the older you get. Trust me on that.” After taking a sip of her tea, she reached over and gently placed her hand on Liza’s chin, turning her head until their eyes connected. “You are an amazing artist.”

Liza tried to shake her head, but her grandmother’s grip on her chin held firm. “You are. And I’m not saying it just because I’m your grandmother. You could spend your life being afraid, my dear. Just existing. Or you can go out there, take a chance and maybe really live. The choice is yours. But I think it’s a sad thing for all those pieces to be hidden away in a room. That’s all.”

With that, she released Liza’s chin, and Liza quickly turned away to hide the tears forming.

“Now that we’re done with all that nonsense, where are you taking me to dinner?”

Liza laughed and wiped her eyes before turning back to her grandmother. “Charlie’s?”

“Charlie’s it is.”

As they walked out the door, Liza didn’t know that she would never get to visit her grandmother in Ohio or have another dinner with her. Just four months later, she was gone.

Chapter One

Liza stood outside the church doors and considered her mother might actually kill her this time. From the moment her eyes had sprung open with the realization she’d slept through her alarm to recklessly speeding through downtown St. Petersburg, Florida, her phone had buzzed relentlessly.

She had sent a text that she was on her way, long before she was actually on her way, but hadn’t read the subsequent text messages. Thirty by last count. Or listened to the five voicemails. They would all be a version of the same thing: Who the hell is late for their grandmother’s funeral?

If she was smart, she’d turn around and go back home. Feign an illness. Maybe go to the emergency room. Would she be too terribly hurt if she wrecked her car doing ten miles an hour?

Except she wouldn’t. Regardless of the aftermath, her grandmother deserved better than that. Taking a deep breath, Liza ran her hands down the front of her dress, then pulled at the material to stretch it. Apparently, she’d put on a few pounds in the last five years, something she would have known had she tried on the dress early as her mother had recommended. Shaking that off, too, she adjusted her purse and took hold of the church door handle.

Flecks of dried paint covering her fingers caught her eye. She snatched her hand back and self-consciously rubbed it against her dress. When she grasped the door handle again, they were still there.

“Nothing you can do about it now, Liza. Get it over with,” she said aloud and then pulled.

The squeal of the door hinges reverberated into the high rafters of the small church. Mourners packed into the wooden pews pivoted and craned to look as she used her back to let the heavy door close softly behind her. Heat rising in her cheeks and her eyes trained on the faded and tattered carpet under her feet, Liza scurried along the back row to the main aisle. Pastor McCarty, who everyone knew left his hearing aids turned down at the pulpit, continued his sermon, oblivious to the interruption.

As she rounded the corner to the aisle, pain shot through her foot when her toe connected with the thick, wooden base of the back pew. One minute she was walking, and the next, she was landing face-first on that tattered carpet with a bone-shuddering thud, hearing the back of her dress rip as she went down.

For a moment, she lay there unmoving, trying to catch her breath, pushing down the string of curse words threatening to escape. Her muscles and bones, initially shocked at the sudden impact, made themselves known one-by-one with sharp, shooting pains.

Under Pastor McCarty’s escalating sermon, gasps and mutterings erupted all around her. She raised her head and gingerly placed her hands on the carpet, feeling the back of her dress let loose as she pushed herself to her knees. She reached back, feeling bare skin where the zipper used to be. A fresh wave of embarrassment washed over her as she struggled to find her footing while pulling the ripped seam closed.

She startled when large hands met hers and then took over the job of closing the gap in her dress, evident by the way it tightened around her waist. Craning her neck, she looked up at the man, and faint recognition sparked. She didn’t have time to analyze it, as his other hand had already encircled her upper arm and was helping her to her feet.

Silently, he removed his simple, dark blue suit jacket one arm at a time, his grip on her dress changing as needed, and then draped it over her shoulders. As he let go of the ripped fabric for good, she felt the tension on her dress release underneath the jacket.

Then he was gone, leaving her to make the rest of the trip up the aisle alone. Clutching the suit jacket around her shoulders, head still down, she made her way to the front pew where her mother and sister, Anna, sat. She’d almost made it when past and present collided and faint recognition morphed into a mortifying realization that her rescuer was Derrick Lowe. Her grandmother’s neighbor. And for two weeks out of the year, for three years, the love of her pre-teen life.

A memory flashed of him riding his dirt bike past her grandmother’s driveway while she stood at the end pretending to be interested in whatever was on the ground that day. The memory was so overwhelming she could almost smell the exhaust. Then it vanished, leaving just an empty feeling in the pit of her stomach and a little extra heat in her cheeks.

By the time she slipped into the empty space in the front pew, the weight of the moment had settled on her shoulders. Her eyes focused on the closed casket in front of her, as she felt Anna’s hand slip onto hers and squeeze. Behind her, she heard her niece, Chloe, start to say her name and being gently shushed by her father. Part of her wanted to turn around, but she couldn’t remove her gaze from the casket. A lump formed in her throat, and then tears welled in her eyes, making the white and yellow carnations blanketing the casket swim. She pushed the tears back down as she battled a wave of guilt and grief.

Guilt over being late. Guilt over making a scene. Guilt over not visiting her grandmother in Ohio. Guilt over not following her advice. Grief over losing the one person who would have found her fall funny. The person who would have given her a hug and a kiss on the cheek and told her an embarrassing story of her own. She was gone, her body prone in the casket at the front of the church. There would be no more lunches or strolls along the beach. No more giggling in the corner at a family function over something neither should have been doing. No one to care about the artwork hiding in her makeshift studio. No one to gently—and sometimes not so gently—nudge her to do something with the pieces, to follow her dreams.

The tears returned, refusing to be pushed back, and cascaded down her cheeks. Anna’s hand disappeared and reappeared holding a tissue. She took it, dabbing away the tears as they fell. Then Anna’s arms slipped around her shoulder and squeezed. She leaned into the hug, her gaze resting on her mother’s face on the other side of her sister. Her jaw tight, the muscles contracting as she worked to contain her anger, Deborah Blackburn’s back was ramrod straight against the wooden pew, her eyes trained on Pastor McCarty. Then her head slowly turned toward Liza, her eyes shooting daggers at her youngest daughter before returning to the front.

Liza looked up at Anna, who gave her a wink that squeezed tears from her red-rimmed eyes. Straightening her spine, Liza turned her attention to Pastor McCarty’s sermon. She couldn’t do anything about her mother. That battle would come later. All she could do was spend the rest of the time doing what she’d planned to do and that was to say goodbye to Dorothy Elizabeth McDonald, Dot to her friends, Grandma to her, and the one person who had understood her.

Chapter Two

Alone in the guest room, which had once been her childhood bedroom, Liza unhooked the clasp at the base of her neck and the dress fell into a heap at her feet. Stepping out of it, she scooped it up and held it in front of her, examining the ripped zipper. Then she tossed it onto the bed next to the neatly folded suit jacket.

Despite the tension between her and her mother, the rest of the funeral and the burial had gone smoothly. Deborah had invited everyone at the graveside back to her house for a meal. Seeing the way her dress had given way after unclasping the top, Liza was glad she hadn’t found the right time to return the jacket.

When they’d arrived at their mother’s house, Anna had retrieved a skirt and blouse she’d worn to the viewing the evening before and handed them to Liza. While it wasn’t black, it was dark enough not to draw attention. As Liza slipped the blouse over her head, she breathed a sigh of relief that it fit.

She was just finishing up when someone tapped on the door, and Anna entered without waiting. Liza thought she looked exhausted as she walked across and flopped down on the bed. Moving the coat to the armchair, Liza dropped her dress on the floor and lay down beside Anna, both staring up at the ceiling.

“Today sucked,” said Anna.


“So, why were you late anyway?” Anna asked, turning her head to face Liza.

“I just overslept.” Liza saw no point in telling Anna why she overslept any more than she planned to tell her mother. Neither would understand.


Liza let her cheek fall to the bed to face her sister. Her lips pulled into a thin line. “It is what it is.”

Anna flipped on her side and propped her head on her hand. “Hey, who was the guy who helped you in the aisle?”

Liza followed, propping her own head up and smiled. “That was Derrick Lowe.”

Anna stared blankly, and then her eyes lit up. “Derrick? You mean grandma’s neighbor, Derrick?”


Anna’s eyes widened, then wiggled. “He grew up a bit, didn’t he?”

Liza adjusted her cheek against her hand. “Yes, he did.”

“You were so obsessed with him. I remember you used to beg Grandma to ask him over to fix things. Sometimes she did, if memory serves.”

“Yeah. I was like twelve. I think he was seventeen or eighteen. Something like that. Whatever he was, he was completely not interested,” Liza said with a laugh. “In me, anyway.”

“And I had no interest in him,” Anna said. “Though, if I weren’t happily married with a kid, I could be persuaded now. Whoa.” With dramatic flair, she fanned her face with her hand.

Liza smacked Anna’s arm with her free hand, and the two women playfully slapped at each other before falling into a fit of giggles. Then it slowed, and they stared at each other. “That felt wrong,” Liza said.

“Nah. It’s okay. Grandma would want us to laugh,” Anna said, reaching over and resting her palm on Liza’s cheek. Liza leaned into the touch, and they both stayed that way for a moment, sharing their grief with one another.

Ever the responsible one, Anna sighed, slapped the bed, and sat up. “We should get downstairs. Mom is going to start wondering where we are.”

Liza groaned and pulled herself to a sitting position, eyeing the jacket as she did. Anna followed her gaze. “You think he’ll be here?”

Liza shrugged and stood up. “I hope so. I’d rather just give that to him now, so I don’t have to remember to ship it.”

Standing up, Anna draped her arm over Liza’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “Come on. On the bright side, you know mom is entirely too classy to let loose on you with others around, so at least you know nothing is going to happen right now.”

“True, but man, can that woman still give some withering looks.”

Anna let go of her grip and walked toward the door, shooting a glance over her shoulder. “Yep, you and her both darling.” Then she grinned and walked out. Outside, she heard Anna yell for Chloe to hurry and then her footsteps thudded on the stairs.

At the mirror, Liza inspected herself one more time, smiled and checked her teeth, straightened her shoulders, and walked out.


Except for the black attire, one would have thought Deborah was hosting a party as opposed to an after-funeral reception, the way she flitted from the living room to the family room to the dining room where people were settled. Ever the dutiful daughter, Anna tried to keep up, keeping Chloe on a short leash for instances when someone wanted to see the “baby.”

Liza had stuck close to the outer edges, moving from one corner to the next. It didn’t stop people from coming up to her, though they were few. Mostly those she recognized from her grandmother’s mobile home park where Liza typically spent a great deal of time during the summer. Liza couldn’t help but wonder if people just didn’t know her or if everyone else was avoiding the topic of her embarrassing entrance like she was.

A few times she made eye contact with her brother- in-law, Scott, who looked equally uncomfortable. They would smile at each other and then move, trying to avoid drawing attention to their lack of involvement. Eventually, Liza landed next to the kitchen, which provided a peaceful escape, even if for only a few minutes. It also allowed her to keep a close eye on the door in case Derrick appeared.

“How are you holding up?” Liza turned to find Scott standing next to her, his arms folded against his chest leaning against the wall.

Liza shrugged. “Okay, I guess. You?”

He gave a thumbs up and returned his arm to its previous folded position. Liza flashed him a smile, knowing it was a lie. On an introverted scale of one to ten, Scott was a solid twenty. As a matter of fact, it had taken a good month after they’d met before Liza had decided to like him.

That moment had only come after a house party Anna had thrown in her college apartment and multiple shots of tequila Anna hadn’t known she’d consumed. They’d stood in the kitchen, bonding over art history. So much so, Anna finally had to interrupt and pull him back to the party. To this day, Liza thought maybe he’d kept her in the kitchen so she would sober up before her sister caught on.

Over eighteen years later, he was the quiet, big brother she’d never known she needed.

He started to speak, but then looked over Liza’s shoulder, straightened and held his hands out. Liza turned to find Anna headed their way, carrying Chloe. The hand-off was seamless and without words, as Anna gently pried Chloe’s hands from around her neck and passed her to Scott. Exhausted, Chloe’s cheek planted on Scott’s shoulder, and her eyes closed.

“Aww.” Liza rubbed Chloe’s back lightly.

“She’s exhausted, Scott. Would you mind taking her upstairs for a little nap?”

“I don’t need a nap. I’m a big girl,” Chloe slurred, then promptly closed her eyes.

All three chuckled, and Liza rubbed her back again. “It’s okay, Chloe. Even big girls need naps sometimes.” But Liza realized she was already out.

Scott pecked Anna on the cheek, then winked at Liza. “Hang in there, sis.”

“I will,” Liza said, watching them go.

Anna took his spot. “You’ve done a pretty good job at hiding in plain sight.”

Liza laughed. “That’s the point.”

“It’s a good turnout.”

“Yeah. It is. Grandma would have been happy.”

“Yep. I mean, she would have complained about all the people, but she would have been happy.”

“True, that,” Liza said.

“By the way, I think I saw Derrick come in.” Anna slid past Liza into the kitchen. “Also, shields up. Mom is headed this way.”

Liza, who’d been momentarily excited over Derrick’s appearance, steeled herself just as her mother arrived.

“Liza, have you been hiding out here the whole time?” snapped her mother as she passed.

“No,” she lied, glancing through the opening at Anna. “I just came over to get something to drink.” Realizing she didn’t have a drink in her hand, she stepped into the kitchen and took the drink Anna was thankfully already handing her. Taking a sip, she said, “I was just getting ready to go back out and find Derrick.”

Deborah opened the refrigerator, pulled out a glass bottle of water, closed the door, and took a drink. “Derrick?

Who’s Derrick?“ Then she realized. “The nice young man who lives next to your grandmother? How do you know him?”

“He was the man who lent me his coat at the funeral.”

Her mother nodded and as she walked toward the door said, “You mean when the dress ripped that you clearly didn’t try on?”

There it was. Liza has been waiting for a comment about the dress. As usual, her mother had just been waiting for the perfect moment. Before Liza could say anything, Deborah had already sauntered out of the kitchen.

“Chin up, li’l sis,” Anna said as she walked by her, giving Liza a light punch on the arm. “It could be worse.”


Anna shrugged. “Don’t know. But it can always be worse.”

When the coast was clear, Liza slipped from the kitchen and darted upstairs to retrieve the jacket. As she descended, she scanned the crowd for Derrick.

Off in the corner, she finally spotted him weaving through the mourners hovering near the back door, then slip out. Picking up her pace, she managed to greet people and thank them for their condolences while still making steady progress toward her destination. Finally, she reached it, turned the knob, and stepped out, blinking against the bright Florida sun.

At first, she’d thought she’d missed him. As far as she could tell, no one was around. Her shoulders hunching, she pulled the coat to her chest and turned to go back into the house when a male voice caught her attention. It was coming from behind the tropically landscaped section at the corner of the house.

Trusting her instincts that it had to be Derrick, she walked toward the voice. The closer she got, the clearer the words were. Slowly, she stopped walking and stood instead, unsure if interrupting him or eavesdropping was worse.

“My flight leaves at six, so I’ll be back in town by one, hopefully.”


“It was very nice. Well, nice except for the granddaughter’s entrance.”

Every muscle in Liza’s body froze and dread washed through her. She should turn around and leave. She knew that. But she couldn’t move.

“Yeah, it was bad. First, she was late. I mean, super late. Then when she came in, she looked like she’d just rolled out of bed. Then she fell. I mean, face-planted right there in the aisle. And her dress was so tight that it ripped right down her back.”


“The family has to be horrified. I was horrified. I jumped up and covered her with my jacket. The worst part was, she didn’t even act bothered by it. Embarrassed or anything. Just took my jacket and headed to the front. It’s why I came to this. To get my jacket back. Otherwise, I’d already be at the airport.”

Shock first, then anger swept through Liza. Not bothered by it? Really? How would he know?

“Dot used to talk about Liza all of the time. I mean, all of the time. Like she was the best thing since sliced bread. I couldn’t believe it. That woman is not the woman I pictured. Not someone I want to get to know, that’s for sure.”

And that was it. Liza, her body tense and her knuckles white on the hand clenching the jacket, strode toward the clearing and stepped into it.

A small amount of satisfaction slid through the raging anger at the look on his face when he saw her. She stood there, one hand on her hip, the other thrust toward him with the jacket. He sputtered a few times then told the person on the other end of the call he needed to go. Disconnecting the call, he slid the phone into his pocket, then started to take a step forward. The look on her face must have stopped him because he halted, then took a step back.

“Liza,” he said. She could tell by his tone, the niceness of it spread across uncertainty, that he was trying to figure out how much she had heard.

“Here,” she said, shaking the jacket dangling in front of her. “I brought your jacket.”

Her original intention had been to thank him profusely for saving her and maybe even explain a little why she’d been late. Not now. Now, she’d die right there before showing him any gratitude.

Refusing to move toward him, she cocked her head to the side as if to say, “Well?”

In one big step, he closed the distance between them, took the jacket, and returned to his spot.

She hadn’t planned to say anything else, to just turn and walk away. But her plans to not speak rarely worked out. As she turned, she looked over her shoulder at him, “You can go now. Since that jacket is the only reason you came. And you don’t know anything about me. And you sure as hell don’t know anything about me and my grandmother.”

Before he could respond, she turned on her heel and marched back to the house.

As Liza stepped back inside, she started for the stairs with every intention of hiding away, at least until the boiling anger subsided. She’d almost made it to the bottom of the staircase when Anna appeared in front of her and grabbed her hand.

“Come on. You’ve left me hanging long enough tonight. Your turn.”

Resigned and knowing Anna was speaking the truth, Liza followed her into the sea of only slightly familiar faces. Throughout the rest of the reception, Liza orbited her mother and Anna as they chatted with various people. Occasionally, the guests would speak to her. Telling a story of how they’d met her when she was a little girl, talking about how much they’d miss her grandmother at bridge club. A few were extended family. Anna even had some high school friends attend.

Her mother kept a pleasant smile throughout, though she’d avoided eye contact with Liza. There was a glimmer of hope that Deborah would let Liza’s transgression go without further comment. It was rare, but it happened occasionally.

Finally, it was over, and the crowd thinned. As Deborah ushered out the last of the guests, Liza marveled at how quickly the gracious hostess act dropped from her mother’s face, revealing the brewing thunderstorm underneath.

As soon as the door latched, Deborah spun around on Liza. “Now. Do you mind explaining to me how you could be late for your grandmother’s funeral?”

Take whatever is coming, Liza thought as she looked down at her feet. Words escaped her. Of only one thing was she certain—the truth that she’d been up all night painting wouldn’t make things better. At the same time, she was entirely too drained to lie. So, what came out was, “I know. I’m sorry.”

Silence filled the space between them and stretched out so long Liza finally looked at her mother.

Deborah was just staring at Liza, her hands on her hips, fury etched into her face. “I didn’t ask if you were sorry, Elizabeth Ann Blackburn. I asked why.”

Immediately, Liza felt the surge simmer at the use of her full name. Like she was a child, being scolded for not eating all of her dinner. The little voice sounded. Just take it. And she pushed it back down. “I just overslept, Mom. I’m sorry. I don’t know what you want me to say.”

Deborah’s arms flung into the air in frustration. “Of course you don’t, Liza.” The volume of her voice steadily increased. “Do you have any idea how mortifying your little display was this morning? Late. Falling. The ripping dress! Do you? Do you have any idea?”

“Yes, Mom!” Liza’s volume rose to match her mother’s. “I know how mortifying it was. It was me who fell!”

“Well, great! At least you appear to have the decency to be embarrassed. Finally!”

“Finally? What does that mean? Finally?” she asked, hearing the way her words clipped in her growing anger. Her plans to just take it had evaporated.

“Exactly what I said! You go around just doing what you want without any regard for anyone else! Just me, me, me!”

“Well, maybe I pay attention to ME because I’m the only one who does!” Liza screamed back.

“Oh, here we go again. Poor Liza, who had everything she wanted growing up. Poor Liza, who squandered everything away for a worthless art degree. That she doesn’t even use. I have no idea where I went wrong with you! If it wasn’t for your sister, I would think I was just a horrible mother!”

Liza physically recoiled at the verbal slap, her voice lowering. “And if it wasn’t for Grandma, I would think you’re a horrible mother, too.”

Anna stepped in between them, “Hey! Whoa! That’s enough.”

Deborah started to speak just as Chloe’s cries interrupted them. They all looked to the stairs, where Scott stood. His mouth was hanging open in shock, his hand firmly holding Chloe’s who was sobbing. Anna looked between the two of them—“Nice, you two”—then walked over and scooped up Chloe.

Deborah immediately crossed to Chloe, opened her arms, and took the crying child. “It’s okay, Chloe. Aunt Liza and I were just having a little argument. It’s over now.” She said the last part as she glared over her shoulder at Liza, then disappeared into the kitchen.

Deflated, Liza moved to the stairs, brushing past Scott, who reached out and patted her back.

In the room, she grabbed her purse then returned to the stairs. Anna was waiting on her at the bottom. “Don’t go. Mom is just stressed. It’ll blow over.”

“Maybe,” Liza said. “But it’ll blow over faster if I’m not here.”

She kissed Anna on the cheek then walked to the front door. Thankfully, Anna didn’t stop her as she slipped out and rushed to her car. On the drive to her apartment, she cranked rock music in the hopes it would keep the tears at bay. It didn’t.

Just as she pulled into her parking lot, her phone dinged with a text message from Anna. Since you and Mom aren’t speaking right now, wanted to let you know to expect a letter of some kind from Grandma.

Liza pulled her phone out of the holder and texted back: What kind of letter?

Anna sent back a shrugging emoji, then: No clue. Mom just said the attorney called and said there would be letters.

Liza responded with a thumbs-up emoji and Thanks.

Anna ended with a heart emoji and Love you, and Liza responded with Same.

With the text conversation over, Liza sat in silence, playing the day over in her head. Too many mistakes for one day. She glanced back down at her phone, the text thread still visible. Letters from her grandmother? For each of them? Why? Then she realized the why didn’t matter. At least she could look forward to it. Again, grief settled on her chest when she realized waiting for the letter would be the last time she could look forward to something from her grandmother. She sat in the grief for a minute, letting the fresh waves roll through her. Then, with a sigh, she stepped out of her car and slammed the door behind her.