“They’re flowers, not fish.” Mom takes the hose from me, turns off the valve, then drops it on the lawn. “You need to tell me what’s up, Katrina, because in the past thirty minutes, I’ve witnessed you overfill Jake’s water dish, trip over your shovel, and drown your impatiens.”

“They’ll be fine.” Heart beating fast over my distracted stupidity, I tip the large bowl-shaped planter to drain excess water then lug it from my porch to the lawn where July sun will dry the soil.

“What’s going on?”

I straighten up and face my mother, the most perceptive woman I know. Sweat glistens on her brow while the breeze teases her long graying pony tail. A picture of me in thirty years.

She tugs off her gardening gloves, sits on the bottom step of my porch, then pats the spot next to her, welcoming me to sit. “You’re not a klutz and you’re an ace gardener. Today you’re not you. Why?”

When I take a seat next to her, she places her hand on my thigh and squeezes. I look into her eyes. “Remember when you finally kicked out dad?”

“You’re thinking about your father?”

I press my hand into hers, offering comfort. “Back when you announced your decision to get divorced, I made myself a promise. I swore I’d work hard to achieve four things.” I gesture to Jake. “The easiest one sits at your feet. Own a German Shepherd to keep me safe.”

As if he knows I’m speaking of him, Jake turns his head to watch me, his tongue lolling in efforts to cool himself.

“Two of the achievements were more work,” I continue. “I became a doctor and I own my own home. No man necessary.”

Warm smile reaching her eyes, Mom says, “You’re my intelligent, driven daughter. You’ve done well. Look at this property.” She waves her hand at my acreage.

I smile at the crop of blue salvia dressing up my rock bed. My gaze follows the rocks to the edge where red petunias live.


My mind flits to the beach, the red bikini, and him, sending my heart into flutters. He’s my favorite distraction, just like when we were kids. Only now my fantasies are all grown up, full of muscles and heat and wanting. Given I’m no longer a schoolgirl, I don’t get to see him. Ever. But his continual presence in my thoughts is—

“I’m waiting for number four.” Mom strokes Jake’s head, which is now resting on her knee.

I draw a deep breath and release it along with some tension. “I promised myself one more thing, but it was a little girl’s dream. Silly, really, because its accomplishment relied on someone other than me.”

“Oooo. Did you hear that, Jake? A little girl’s silly dream.”

Jake perks up and looks at Mom then me.

Mom winks. “Silly dreams tend to be the most worthwhile.”

Another deep breath. “My fourth promise was to marry a man who’d never hurt me.”

“Well, I don’t see anything silly about that. After everything your father did, it’s the most sensible thing in the world.”

“But I picked Aaron Keller.”

Understanding lifts her countenance. “That’s a name I haven’t heard in ages.” Her eyes sparkle as if in celebration of renewed hope for her still-single 35-year-old daughter.

“Nothing’s going on, Mom.” I reach over to stroke Jake’s head. “Of all my goals, that was the irrational one. A nonsense fantasy.”

“No. Not nonsense. He asked you out.”

Memory of that moment twists the void left by Connor.

If I’d said yes to Aaron…

The void pulses against my heart.

Aaron never had a chance to see how far I’d come because I’d never given him the opportunity.

Mom nudges me with her elbow. “What’s got you thinking about Aaron?”

Warmth flows through my core, reminding me of details best kept private. “After I found out he was married, I blocked him out of my mind. I swear I haven’t thought of him in years. I’ve been focused on work and my property. My life. But all of a sudden, a few months ago, I started having dreams of being with him. Vivid dreams. Intimate dreams.” Tears for ridiculous hopes press into my eyes.

“Ah.” She chuckles. “Aaron Keller strikes again. You know what this means, don’t you?”

I nod. “But I’m not ready to know. If he’s divorced, there’ll be baggage. If he’s married, I’ll be disappointed again, which will hurt. If he’s dead, I’ll be devastated. I don’t want baggage or hurt or devastation. I want to be happy like I am right now. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”

Disappointment darkens her eyes, then she interlaces her fingers with mine. My mother. Strong Marina Lopez. My rock.

“Katrina…” She strokes my skin under her thumb. “You’re wrong. I don’t regret anything. I loved your father and he gave me you and that goofball brother of yours. And because of his way, as upsetting as it was, you became a very strong woman. But you can’t keep hiding behind independence. You are ready to know. You are ready to deal with baggage and hurt and devastation because you’ve already done all that. And you’ve prevailed.” She squeezes my hand. “Look. Him. Up.”

Tears blink out of my eyes.

She’s right.

My heart is ready. It’s crying for me to find out.

But my body…

My mind…

I wipe away a tear.

Fear never goes away.


This post is part of a series under the category Prelude To My Novel.

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