Jack of all Hearts…
A woman and her tool belt…
A man and his cell phone…
Even her skill set as a handy woman is no match for their magnetic pull.
Elizabeth wants love, but she’s keeping her independence – no matter what. Married to a businessman who is shackled to a rundown family home, Beth works to prove she has value… to herself and her new husband.
When Tyler loses a bet, he’s stuck with the family money pit and a wife he doesn’t want.
Can a renovated home repair the damage to both their hearts? Or is ClickandWed.com going to have its first failed match?
Tyler loved his new condo on the west side of the bay. He’d signed the lease only three months before. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a twelve-step program for his addiction to the view of the bay and the nearly permanent-absent neighbors.
His long legs stretched comfortably beneath the table in front of him as he leaned back in his winged dining chair. Resting his elbow on an armrest, he watched his younger brother, Jay, and their mutual buddies, Mac and Ryan, as they quibbled over the amount of their bet.
Mac finally gave in and threw three gold Sacajawea dollar coins into the center of the green felt table top. “Okay, boys, this is my last hand. Marcy’s gonna kill me, if I show up late tonight. I almost wasn’t able to come because of last time.” He wrinkled his nose and avoided making eye contact with anyone.
“Yeah, his wife almost grounded him.” Ryan guffawed as he tossed in his matching coins. “I tell you what, if my wife ever told me…”
Jay arched his blond eyebrows over brown eyes. “Ryan, no one will be your wife. Ever. So, you, my friend, will never have to worry about it. I don’t know any woman that wants a guy who lives with his mother.”
The guys laughed, tossing out more good-natured jokes at each other as they munched on chips and dip and drank from their bottles.
They called, holding their cards tight in their hands, ready to show the faces. As they lay them down, Ty couldn’t imagine a more perfect guys’ night. Every night could be guys’ night, if he wanted it to be.
Bachelorhood was the perfect life for him. Answering to no one was right up his alley. He didn’t have to walk around any woman like Jay and Mac, and he didn’t have to answer to his mother like Ryan.
Mac groaned. “And Ty-Guy takes the game again. Is this your night, man, or what? I bet you can make any bet tonight and not lose. Go out and get that lottery card.”
Ty was feeling lucky. He silently agreed with Mac that he probably could bet anything and win. He humbly claimed the winnings pot in the center of the table and pulled it towards his own stash. “I hate to see you guys leave, taking all your money with you. Oh, wait, no, I don’t. I’ll keep your money to make it less traumatic.” He laughed and stood with them as they gathered their things. They mumbled with smiles, claiming their food or other items they’d brought for the evening.
“I’m just going to crash here, is that all right, Ty? Sylvia is at her mom’s and I think I’ve had a little too much to drink tonight.” Jay stretched, then grabbed his drink and snack plate from his spot at the table and headed into the kitchen.
“You know you’re always welcome, bro.” Ty walked his friends to the door as they left. He hadn’t realized how late it was getting. “I need to work tomorrow. I didn’t see the hour.”
Jay helped clear the table, and moved the items into the kitchen. The weekly game night always culminated in brotherly bonding. Not every time was an overnighter, though. Ty liked the late-nights with his brother and found them to be well-worth the lack of sleep.
“Have you heard from Mom?” Jay didn’t look directly at Ty, which of course suggested that Jay had heard from Mom and that he had something to share with Ty that Ty wasn’t going to like.
Ty sighed. “No. I haven’t. Have you?” He sipped the melted ice in the bottom of his glass.
“Yeah, she’s pretty happy.” Jay turned, hiding his face from Tyler. “She wants us to sell the house.”
Laughing out loud, Ty shook his head and rinsed off the dishes in his sink. “I’m not selling anything. I don’t have time to fix it up. We won’t get half the market value for it in the state it’s in. How much does Mom owe?”
Jay faced Ty and leaned against the counter, his arms crossed at his waist. “I don’t have the money either. Sylvia is finishing up med school and we don’t have the cash for that.” He stared at the floor and then met Ty’s gaze. “I want to propose to her… but I’m not sure. I’m nervous, you know? With the house and the other stuff Mom tossed at me during our last phone call, I got spooked.”
“Wow, marriage?” Ty watched Jay. He swore he’d never get married himself.
“Did you think I’d live with her forever? I love her. I just don’t know if I’m ready.” He stepped forward and braced his arm on the counter beside Ty, speaking softly. “I think you should take the house. You don’t have any family responsibilities or anything. You can do this. Hire someone to fix it. It can’t be that hard.”
“It’s a money pit. I can’t sink money into that place and my company at the same time. I’ll lose them both.” Tyler didn’t want the house. He didn’t want to deal with the aftereffects of Mom meeting someone new and running off to Italy with the man like she was a young teenager.
Leaving all of her accounts, properties, and assets, essentially everything, to her sons, she counted on them to pull her out of any holes that might be left.
Of course, Jay and Ty would do exactly what she wanted. They always did.
“What’s going on with the company? Is it in danger?” Jay turned, a towel draped over his shoulder as he grabbed more dishes to tuck into the sink for Ty to rinse.
Shrugging, Ty tried not to let his irritation show. “It’s a family brand – the company prides itself on having a family persona. Taking over companies and rebuilding them is easier with the companies believing you’re out to protect the families. I’m not cohesive with that brand. It’s hard to have the front face of the company as a bachelor. The counselors want me to get married – at least publicly.” He grunted in frustration. “I don’t have time for that. I barely have time for the weekend flings that I do have.”
“You make it sound like such a chore.” Jay laughed but rolled his eyes, popping a stray chip in his mouth.
If Tyler wasn’t seriously frustrated with his predicament, he would punch his brother in the arm and laugh off Jay’s fake jealousy.
“What’s wrong with being voted San Francisco’s most eligible anyway? I don’t know what I would do with that.” Jay had turned his back on Tyler and Tyler sensed a tone of bitterness, not enough to be offsetting but enough to add an arsenic flavor to their conversation.
“Nothing’s wrong with the title, except the number of women after me have increased and not because I’m particularly striking. There’s just not a lot right with the award either.” Ty finished loading the dishwasher and pressed the start button. He motioned Jay out of the clean kitchen and into the living room.
His new leather furniture and sixty-inch screen television would have made him purr, if he were a cat.
Settling on the couch beside Ty, Jay picked up a deck of cards. He shuffled nonchalantly. “I sense a bet coming on.” He referenced the many high-stakes games Jay and Ty played throughout their life. He moved the cards between his hands in a fan and then an arc. “Two out of three, let’s play twenty-one. Loser deals with the house.”
Mac had pointed out that Ty-Guy was on a winning streak that night. He probably could win just about any bet he placed. He believed it. As if a rush of warmth flooded through him, he imagined an influx of luck flowing through his blood.
“Okay, loser deals with the house and any of the other issues that come with it.” Ty jerked his chin upward in a sharp nod. He didn’t want to come off as too cocky. He hadn’t won yet.
Jay grinned. He shuffled, waited for Ty to cut the deck and then dealt two cards to both of them.
Pushing aside a stack of magazines, Ty ignored them as they fell to the floor from the coffee table, falling open.
First-hand, Tyler lost to Jay, but that was okay.
Jay won the first one. It was only one.
The loss didn’t faze him, and Ty shook it off. That’s how he always played. He was ‘low man’ in the beginning and then he always came out on top.
He picked up the magazine while Jay shuffled the next hand. The advertisement the magazine had fallen open to had a lot of white space and a red heart circled with a dialogue icon. Clickandwed.com was prominently displayed on the bottom of the page. At the top the ad screamed “Marry your match today.”
Tyler guffawed. “Can you imagine? Look at this. What losers would do this?” He held open the ad toward Jay and smirked. Then a thought crossed his mind and he pulled the magazine back, staring at the ad.
“Hey, let’s make it interesting. The loser has to take the house and has to get married, either you marry Sylvia or I’ll marry the first person that ClickandWed matches me to.” Ty challenged Jay with a laugh. Tyler had to up the ante while Jay thought he had a chance. One loss on Ty’s side and he was raising the stakes.
Jay raised his eyebrows, the challenge acknowledged and taunted in his gaze. “Okay, I’m prepared to marry Sylvia. Are you prepared to marry the first person that’s desperate enough to go on an online dating service?”
Tyler’s confidence didn’t shake. He would win. He always won. Plus, he couldn’t see his future having anything to do with marriage or that house of his mother’s. He was too happy with how things were.
“I am. Let’s do this.” Jay dealt the second hand.
“Haha!” Tyler crowed as he won with a perfect score. “What else can we do to make this even more fun? Anything else you want to add to this bet? We only have one hand left and we’re tied up. One of us is getting married.” And it’s you, little brother. Ty wiggled his eyebrows and leaned back on the couch, reveling in the smooth coolness of the leather. “Come on. One more. Let’s make it really good.”
“Okay, I’ve got one.” Jay looked around the apartment. He pointed at the brand-new furnishings and the barely-lived on couches. “If I win, not only do you get the house and you have to get married on ClickandWed but I also get your apartment – rent free. You have to live in that place for six months, meaning I get the condo for that time, while Sylvia and I figure out where we’re going for her fellowship.”
The possibility of losing his apartment sent a twinge of doubt racing up and down Ty’s spine.
But wait, he was on the ride of his life. He would win the bet.
He didn’t try to hesitate, but he was a little nervous to lose his apartment. He’d learned a long time ago not to bet something you weren’t willing to lose. He could handle being married to a stranger, if he had to. His mom’s place? Sure, he could do that. He had lost worse things.
But his condo? Could he lose it? “Not permanently, though, right? I don’t want to give this up for good. I can handle six months, if I have to.”
Jay laughed. “No, of course not. Only the six months. Like a long, super long, vacation. I cannot believe that you’re worried more about losing the condo than you are about getting married.” He shuffled a few more times, his gaze on Ty. “Okay. Let’s do this.”
Closing his eyes, Ty waited for the click as the cards were laid out in front of him.
Jay’s gasp didn’t have a specific connotation and Ty snapped his eyes open.
He had a respectable hand that would be hard to beat…
But Ty’s heart sank as he took in Jay’s hand and his jaw dropped.
He lost. Tyler had lost. His shoulders slumped and he rubbed his forehead.
Jay crowed as he gathered up the cards. They made a point to razz each other when they won, especially such a large prize. “Twenty-one, my brother. Twenty-one. Looks like you are getting married and moving into a beautiful home in Oakland and I get to have your apartment.” He stood up and danced around the living room, dodging past the ceiling high windows and rubbing his rear-end on the far wall. He grunted. “Just going to mark my territory over here.”
“Don’t pee on anything.” Tyler pinched the bridge of his nose and hung his head. He groaned. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Somehow he would have to talk Jay out of it. But deep down he knew he wouldn’t.
The Manning boys stuck to their bets, it’s what they did. The only honor they held absolutely sacred.
And Ty knew if he backed down this time, Jay would never stick to anything he bet in the future. Plus… this was what they did. Jay and Ty for as long as he could remember, they stuck by each other, even in the most ridiculous of wagers.
No matter which way Ty looked at it, his honor demanded he fulfill the bet.
No matter how much he wanted to kick his brother out of the condo and hide in his bed.
Tyler held up the ad and looked at the heart icon. “ClickandWed? Hopefully, I’m not paired up with any women from the Midwest.” He tried not to engage in discouragement too much. Optimism was a choice, his mom always said.
Chuckling with an evil laugh, Jay wagged his finger at Ty. “Remember, it’s the first one you’re matched with.”
Despair was a new emotion for Tyler as he glared at his brother. He wouldn’t put it past Jay to somehow manipulate the results. He’d probably put the worst possible match up for him. It wouldn’t be the first time Jay had pulled off some kind of prank to really up the staying power of a bet.
After considering Jay’s excitement, Ty ignored the fact that he had lost what he’d considered a sure thing. He sighed. “All right, you can have the apartment when my new computer bride moves in with me. I don’t know how soon I’ll have a match.” It’d be even better, if Mom moved back before Ty had to move in. He could hope her new fling ended early, couldn’t he? Or was that just being mean-spirited?
He didn’t even want to think about the horrific home his mother had left for them. He’d somehow have to make it all work as he forced himself to live with someone he didn’t know, work on his business that was sinking fast, and be away from the hard-to-get condo on the Bay.
The next six months were not going to be fun.
I wrapped my coat a little tighter around my waist. I’d broken the zipper of the expensive jacket the week before when I’d gotten into a wrestling match with the air compressor hose and a pneumatic tool. My best friend, Alexandra Reeves, wasn’t in town anymore to help me with domestic tasks.
Sewing a straight line was not one of my many talents. Not that I couldn’t learn. I just didn’t want to learn.
However, I could fix anything with a screwdriver and as I finished up the final remodel of a client’s deck and Jacuzzi addition, I couldn’t help but wish I had a little bit more domestic talent. What man would want to marry a woman that couldn’t make a TV dinner? At least I can order Chinese like a pro.
The snow didn’t fall fast or heavy, but more in a lazy pattern that comforted me. Finishing up a job in time to go home and enjoy some tea while watching the snow was a great way to wind down. I couldn’t wait.
Mr. Hindenburg called out from the top of the patio I’d just finished. “Thank you again, Lizzie. You did such a nice job. Are you sure you won’t marry me?” The man was in his 60s or 70s, which wasn’t old necessarily, but it was certainly more maturity than I wanted in a man.
I was still looking for someone who wanted to have children with me, not great-grandchildren. Waving at him from behind my silver Dodge Ram, I called out in reply, “Thank you, Mr. Hindenburg. That’s really sweet of you. I’m going to go visit my friend though.” Plus, well, I wasn’t interested in marrying a man who only wanted me around so he didn’t have to twist a screwdriver.
“Oh, the one that walked out on her wedding?” He guffawed and slapped his thigh. “I still can’t believe that happened. Who does that?”
The stigma Alex had left was going to follow Elizabeth around the rest of her life – or as long as she stayed in Arkansas.
“Yes, sir. That’s the one.” But I didn’t care. Mr. Hindenburg was my last client. I didn’t work on closing my business for the last three months since I’d been to Alex’s wedding for nothing. I’d signed up with ClickandWed thanks to Alex repaying me her signup fee. Waiting for my match was slowly killing me with impatience.
I wasn’t surprised though. Dating me would be like dating one of the guys. I loved tools and talking shop. If the guy didn’t cook or care about how the house was decorated, we’d both be left living in a hovel and eating takeout every night… and lunch… and morning.
When I had emailed ClickandWed’s owner, Colin Davies, for an update and find out how long it took people to get matches, the reply had been that it wasn’t a widely used service yet and my match would come in when it was time.
The answer didn’t make me feel that comforted since I’d already turned in my notice for vacating my place and my last day was next weekend. If not before.
Visiting Alex in Snoqualmie was the only thing I could think of to help me extend my homeless lifestyle until I had a match and a place to call home. I really just wanted to get started on my next adventure.
Closing up shop and packing up everything was heartbreaking. I’d already established a solid working company and had taken on so many clients I had a hard time keeping up with the demand. I’d been considering hiring a manager, since honestly, I hated the business part of things anyway, and then I’d sent Alex to Washington and decided to do the same thing to myself.
My phone buzzed as I put my smaller toolbox into the back of my truck. I pulled the cell out of my pocket, ducking under the glass window hatch and yawning. Putting in eighteen hour days in the freezing winter weather was catching up to me. This time of year was usually my down time, but I’d promised too many people completed projects in the spring. I’d taken the jobs as a personal challenge to finish before finding a match.
Too bad, I wasn’t matched yet. I wasn’t a fan of failing.
A red heart icon flashed on my phone. I pushed it, anxious to see what would be the answer. Had someone asked a question? Was there interest of some kind? Any kind of movement? I needed something to keep me going on this path I’d started on.
I licked my lips, suddenly shaking and it wasn’t from the cold.
The ClickandWed app dinged and a red dialogue box flashed. “You have a match! Read the profile by pushing the red heart! Congratulations.”
I was so nervous. Pulling off my slim gloves, I blew warm air into my cupped fist and stared at the touch screen. Button. Button. Button. Did I push it? Or did I just continue to dwell in the mindset that I hadn’t been matched yet?
Do it. Just do it. I wouldn’t be committing anything. I was just checking him out. I pushed the button and a handsome man’s profile popped up on the screen.
Almost too handsome, like he knew his charming smile with blondish brown hair and dark eyes were like honey for women. Okay, there was no such thing as a too handsome man. And this one was matched to me. A white dress shirt with a blue tie set off his tan. He had broad shoulders and long lashes.
I could only imagine what his hands felt like.
I hoped charming meant friendly, because I could do with a friendly man for once. I’d hold out hope he wasn’t a jerk and be happy with what I got.
What would he think when he saw my profile? What if he didn’t like that I was a brunette? A lot of guys preferred blondes, like Alex. Or that I couldn’t cook? I hadn’t lied on my questionnaire or in my comments when I’d pretty much warned the men away.
How did I have a match that said he wanted to marry me? All I had to do was approve and click I do.
The app said he was from San Francisco, California. Hmmm… warm temperatures year round? I could work all the time and not have to worry about my fingers falling off or if my lips were going to stick to the metal nails when I held them between my teeth.
What was his name? Tyler Manning? He looked like a man’s man and I didn’t know how our compatibility was almost at a hundred percent. How was 99.5% even possible? We were probably matched like buddies because I could talk sports and tools and most women couldn’t.
I thought Alex’s compatibility score was high but this was crazy.
Glancing around at the snow-covered streets and trees with their branches over laden with snow, I couldn’t find one thing wrong with having such a high score. There was a guy out there that was my perfect match. My happy-ever-after was just around the corner.
I’d be as happy as Alex and Jeremy were. Excitement made my lips curve up and I closed the hatch and climbed in the cab. Starting the engine, I waited for it to warm up. I moved to hit I do, but hesitated. What if he expected someone other than what he was getting? What if I wasn’t the right one for him and he didn’t know, but I did? I wasn’t the one the guys took home to mom and dad to marry. I was the one they brought the street rods to for repair.
A little yellow heart blinked on the bottom right hand of the screen. There was a note attached the profile for me. I brought it up, a very simple note from Colin Davies. “I hope you’re happy with your match. I checked everything over myself and he seems amazing for you. What a great compatibility score. Don’t hesitate to reach out, if you have any questions.”
Why wasn’t I completely convinced the guy was my type? His clean appearance and amazing good looks should’ve had me clicking that I wanted to marry him immediately, but I wasn’t shallow. That wasn’t enough.
What if he was the type of guy who didn’t even know what dirt was? He might not like the outdoors and he might only like the inside of an office.
True, my feminine side would love to go on a date with him in that suit with me dressed in a dress and heels. The last time I wore heels I was sixteen and going to the senior prom with Drake Madison.
This guy could definitely be Drake, but I was no longer a sixteen-year-old girl.
Colin said she matched us. After Alex’s wedding, and how happy they were, I found it hard to doubt anything that Colin did.
I pushed the home button and called Alex. Before she could even say hello when she answered, I blurted out. “I got matched. But it’s like a ridiculous score, 99.5 or something and the guy is in California. He’s dressed like Bob Hope. True, he’s not that old, but still. Oh my gosh, though, he looks like that one guy from that show Suits. The blond with the eyes and the jaw line? You know who I’m talking about. Remember? Anyway, I got a note from Colin on the match, too. Colin said the match was made by she or he or whoever Colin is. What do I do? What would you do?”
I took a deep breath, staring at the fogging up windshield. My friend waited another moment, as if I might start talking again. And I might. Who knew what I was going to do. Everything was up in the air, especially since I had pushed my best friend into abandoning her husband at the altar and eloping with someone she’d never met.
“I think you should do it. I didn’t know if I was really going to love Jeremy, but it’s working out well. I’m happy.” She hesitated as if she sensed that I had to hear something more concrete. “Actually, since we’re on the phone. I was just going to call you. You really need to come see me in about seven months give or take. Wherever you’re at.”
Seven months. Where would that put me? I’m sure the weather… Wait, why seven months? Why such an arbitrary number? She was trying to tell me something… I calculated quickly in my head. It had been only a few months since the wedding and I knew for a fact, they had waited for the wedding night. Wait a minute. I dropped my jaw. “No. Are you pregnant?”
Alex squealed. “Yes! Apparently honeymoons really do work. We’re due in about seven months. You have to come up. I hope by then you’re desperately happy, too. Maybe that’ll be around the time you guys will come up here and have a real wedding like we did. You know you can use Forever Akers whenever you want.”
I bit my lip and blinked back the sentimental tears she brought out in me. Leave it to Alex to bring out my softer side. It wasn’t easy to cry and be emotional when you worked with chop saws and metal grinders for a living.
“Do you really think I should do it?” I snickered at my insecurity. “He might not be impressed by me.”
“I do. And he’s lucky to have you. You’re impressive in so many ways. You’re amazing. Stop talking like that. I really think you’re going to be pleasantly surprised.” She had such joy in her voice.
I wanted that for myself.
“Okay. I’m going to do it. Love you.” I hung up and before I could think too much about what she said, I clicked I do.
I only get to live once, right?
My phone buzzed as I stepped into the bathroom of the San Francisco International Airport.
I’d been at the airport almost two hours waiting for my new husband to pick me up. Two hours. Who made someone wait that long?
Ordering dinner was an option, but I wasn’t sure what Tyler had planned, so I didn’t want to ruin my appetite. Although, at the rate we were going, I’d probably end up eating at the airport… in the bathroom.
The three iced teas I ordered rushed through me and I couldn’t wait any longer for him to show up. I rolled my carry-on alongside me. There was a short line in the restroom and the stalls looked tight.
I adjusted my fanny pack to the back of my waist and worked my carry-on underneath the counter, lodging it beneath the plumbing of the sink. There wouldn’t be any room in the stall for the cumbersome bag and me.
Hopefully, one of the other women wouldn’t mind helping me out. I made eye contact with a blonde woman who applied lipstick in the mirror. I smiled as nicely as I could without looking hokey. “Would you mind watching this for a second, please, I just need to use the restroom.” I tried my most charming tone but it had to be dimmed by my exhaustion and frustration with my new husband and situation.
“Sure, honey. I can help you out.” She curved her bright red lips at me and fluffed her brassy blonde hair. I ignored when she adjusted her breasts in her tight white tank and made an O with her lips.
“Thanks.” I slipped in line and finally got my turn in the stall on the end. It didn’t take long to relieve myself. I settled my shirt back into place and pulled my fanny pack down over it. Alex hated my pack with everything in her being, but I was so fond of it. The many compartments held everything I needed like my wallet, money, drivers license, phone, and Chapstick.
My phone buzzed again but with two short vibrations in quick succession. I pulled it out and glanced at the screen. A bright red heart in a dialogue icon demanded I check in.
Not happening until I was somewhere that wasn’t a public bathroom.
Tucking my phone in the pack, I left the stall, blowing a puff of air from being tired but finally relieved. At least the pressure of needing to use the bathroom had been released. “Thank you, so much —” I looked around for the blonde woman but she was nowhere in sight.
I hadn’t meant to take so long. I looked under the counter and froze. Wait. Where was my bag? Panicked, I glanced around at the other women in the restroom, searching the faces for the one I should recognize – the one I had counted on to help me.
She was nowhere in sight and the other women avoided my gaze, as if they had seen her walk out and no one had stopped her. I ran out of the bathroom, searching the rushing crowd as it passed by in both directions.
Biting my lip, I slapped my thigh. She was nowhere in sight. I wasn’t stupid. She’d taken my bag and handed it to someone else. My cheap traveling clothes were probably being rifled through as I sat there, sick to my stomach. I watched my fair share of CSI. At least I could be glad my body hadn’t ended up in the middle of the Bay on some garbage barge.
Who did I call? What was I supposed to do when I had no evidence and I was thousands of miles from home? No, wait, this was my home now. What a great homecoming.
I pulled out my phone and remembered I had gotten a text.
Please, be something good. Please, be from my husband and he was coming to rescue me.
Instead, it was a text from the shipping company I had hired to transport all of my tools and other items with my truck. They were stuck in inclement weather and wouldn’t be there for another two days.
Everything was late, plus my bag was stolen, and I was stuck in an airport.
I flopped onto the nearest bench and stared at the tiled wall. What was I supposed to do? I wasn’t a crier, so that wasn’t happening. I was frustrated and had no hammer and no wood and no clothes to change into from my denim capris and Skechers.
Even the address I had wasn’t accurate.
After waiting the first thirty minutes for my new husband, I went to the taxi line. Another fifteen minutes and I got a cab. I climbed in and gave the driver the San Francisco address I had.
The cab driver had laughed. “There is no such address. Try again, sweetheart.” I’d climbed out, dragging my carry-on along with me. At least I’d had my stuff then. The discouragement I’d felt then was nothing to what was dragging me down as I sat outside the bathrooms.
I had no one to pick me up. No one to call. Unless of course the ClickandWed app had the contact information I needed.
Using precious battery power, I looked up the app and flipped through to their contact information. No way was I going to check in until I’d actually walked through the walls of my husband’s home – my new home.
A phone number was under their contact page. I dialed the number and reached a voicemail.
Bull pucky. I dialed again. Voicemail. I called seven times until finally someone answered with a frustrated tone to his voice. “Hello, this is Carlisle. Thank you for calling ClickandWed. How can I help you?”
“This is Elizabeth Snyder. I need the address for my new husband’s place. I’ve been at this airport now almost three hours and I’m so tired. Can you, please, help me?” I tried hiding the plaintive whine that I knew was lurking beneath my calm.
“Hmm. The address looks like it doesn’t match the billing address. Here, let me get that for you. I’ll text it to your phone.” He was friendly and supportive. I’m glad he finally answered.
“Thank you.” Maybe it had been a typo or something when Tyler typed it into the personal information section.
We hung up and the text came through a minute later. Oakland? Oakland and San Francisco were not typos.
I needed a minute. I needed to try to work through what is going on in my head, what was going on in that airport. Did he not want to marry me? I was desperately confused and I had to get out of there.
I didn’t care how much battery I used. I called Alex and started crying when she answered the phone – okay, not real tears, just more whining and complaining. “My carry-on was stolen. Alex, stolen. From the bathroom by a blonde woman putting on red lipstick. Tell me, please, tell me, that this is not karma. What did I do wrong to make this happen to me?”
Alex laughed and I narrowed my gaze as she spoke. “You’re not as panicked sounding as I would expect someone to be when their carry-on is stolen. Was it really?” She had a point. I usually messed around and teased her but this wasn’t the time for that.
I sighed and gripped the side of my fanny pack while looking around for the despicable blonde. “Well, yeah, I’m upset. I think I’m in shock and plus, it’s just stuff I couldn’t fit into my boxes. Just a couple overnight outfits and stuff. Nothing fancy. It didn’t have anything of value in it.” Besides underwear – probably not the kind the blonde wore anyway.
My supposed-best-friend didn’t even cover her laugh at this point. “Are you wearing your fanny pack?”
I glanced around, as if maybe wearing the pack was illegal. “What’s wrong with the fanny pack? Get off my back about that. Not only is my carry-on stolen, but my things are late, too.” I sighed. I really wasn’t that upset some cheap clothes had been stolen. “Too much is piling on, that’s why I’m so upset.”
Her tone immediately changed and she tried to be more comforting than cajoling. “I’m sorry. I thought you were joking. Do you need me to come to you? Or do you want to come up here? Want me to get you a ticket?”
Leave it to Alex to try to fix everything. Normally that was my role. “No. I’ll figure it out. I’m frustrated because my new husband sent me an email telling me he’d pick me up. How could he put the wrong address in, too? Is he doing this on purpose?”
“But you have a new address, right?” Alex came at things with a logical bent which was great when I needed help leveling my head.
“Yeah, it’s in Oakland.” I scanned the area around me. Since the incident in the bathroom, I wasn’t completely comfortable being by myself and I really wanted to get out of there. My frustration and shock had swiftly changed to uneasiness. If they’d been willing to steal from me in a bathroom full of women, what else would they try and get away with?
“Go get a taxi and get to Oakland. I’m sure he’s confused about something. It’s probably just a misunderstanding. These things happen all the time.” Her smooth tone consoled me and I stood from the bench.
I sighed in relief. “You’re probably right. I mean look at how happy you guys turned out. I’m sure this is just one of those glitches. Thankfully, I don’t have to deal with the mother-in-law my first day.” We both laughed.
She snickered, not insulted in the least. “You’re a brat.”
I grinned, more comfortable with a plan to put into action. “Yeah, but you love me. Talk to you later.”
“Let me know you made it, I can’t wait to hear how amazing you two get along.” I could hear the smile in her voice and that made me feel even better.
We hung up. I might be all alone in San Francisco, but I wasn’t completely on my own. If I needed anything, I had someone I could call who was calm enough to keep me sane. She was more important to me, than I told her.
Something didn’t smell right and I rushed to the exit for fresh air.
Returning to the taxi line, I grimaced at the humid heat. It really wasn’t that bad, but it was January. I had expected it to be warm, but the longer I was abandoned at that airport the more I missed Arkansas and the bitterer I became.
The warm weather didn’t let my negativity last long. I lifted my face to the low afternoon sun and soaked in the vitamin D.
My turn came and I leaned in to talk to the taxi driver. I wasn’t climbing in the car until I knew for sure I had a real address. “Can I get to 368 Staten Avenue in Oakland?”
The cab smelled of Reuben sandwiches and French fries. My stomach growled. Maybe I needed to get a different cab – I didn’t want to eat the cushions.
The shock on his face didn’t reassure me. He half-twisted to see me better with an arm across the passenger seat headrest. “Yeah, come on in. That’s one heckuva drive. Are you sure you want to go that far?”
“I don’t have any other options. That’s the address I have. Do you take MasterCard?” I didn’t blanch at the thought of using my credit card. I only used them for security reasons. I had plenty of money. I just didn’t want to give someone I didn’t know direct access with the card number.
“Your dime.” He said good-naturedly and motioned me inside.
Climbing in, I closed the door and we fell into an easy silence. I had never been to the West Coast. The sunshine itself was overwhelming like I was being forced into a good mood. I wasn’t a fan of forced joviality and that’s exactly what the sun was trying to do to me.
Sometimes a girl just wanted to be cranky – like that afternoon. I wanted to be mad and the sun was making that impossible.
I couldn’t absorb everything we passed and the forty minute drive passed quickly. We crossed the bridge in the Bay and entered an older part of town. I leaned forward and pointed at a large campus. “What is that?”
“That’s Berkeley. The address you gave me is on the north side of Merritt Lake. I’ve seen some pretty homes up there. It’s an older part of town, but a good neighborhood. Have you ever been here?” He must have sensed I wasn’t from anywhere on the west coast. They seemed to speak faster closer to the water and I was a little too friendly for my own good.
Red lip-sticked woman, anyone?
I shook my head, staring out the window at my new home. For all intents and purposes, I wasn’t going back to Arkansas. I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t do it. I’d accepted Tyler and his home. I was going to make it work there, no matter what.
Everyone needed a handywoman, even if they didn’t know it.
The cab driver pulled onto an incline, parking at the curb of a home that could be three or four stories. I was thrown off by the angle of the hill as it cut the view of the foundation in half.
“Here you go. You got lucky. This is one of the historical homes. It doesn’t look like they have it tagged as one, but it’s a nice one. All they need to do is clean it up some.” He held out his hand for the card.
Glancing at the meter, I swallowed my gasp at the high number. I smiled as I paid. He’d gotten me to the address and in a pretty quick time frame, too.
He scanned my card and I wrote in a tip.
“Thank you.” I climbed from the cab and he pulled away slowly. I turned to face the cream-colored home.
The stately architecture was diminished by the chipping paint and the various shades of siding. The patchwork style looked like they couldn’t decide if they wanted to use vinyl or slats. At least it wasn’t the stucco I’d seen all over the place. I could replace vinyl or slats with my eyes closed. Stucco was a messier business.
A realtor’s for sale sign hung limply in the green shaggy grass. He was trying to sell the house? I was even more confused. Would I be there only to move again? That wasn’t a pleasant prospect considering all my tools were agonizing to move.
Trees surrounding the house and running the gamut of the street gave me a fresh perspective on another reason to be glad there wasn’t any snow. The sun began to set, and orange rays slashed across the emerald green leaves of the trees. My bad mood was suddenly diminished and it almost disappeared at the appearance of pink rhododendrons on the edge of the sidewalk.
I climbed the steps to the rundown home, verifying the address numbers nailed to the front of the porch post. I cringed with each creak of the handrail when I touched it as I climbed the stairs.
The cement steps were severely cracked with weather damage down the sides and front. Dandelions and other weeds protruded from the deep splits.
Even the molding on the windows had seen better days – not in that decade, but maybe at some point in time.
My heart rate sped up and I rubbed my hands on my pants. Ringing the doorbell, I waited. Then I knocked. Then I opened the screen door and knocked four to five more times. Okay, it was more like nine times, but four didn’t sound as pathetic.
Looking through the window for any sign of life, I finally gave up when I saw there was no movement inside the home.
My phone buzzed fast again and I pulled it out, glaring at the face irritably. I swiped and checked in, just to get the app to leave me alone. If I was at the wrong place, I would make sure they knew about it.
Dead leaves and branches hung over the porch, tugging on my hair when I inspected the other windows accessible via the porch. I wasn’t sure if I should wait on the porch swing, until I noticed that the chain was rusted and pitted.
I wasn’t putting my butt on anything that couldn’t hold it.
Claiming a seat on the rotting steps, I wrapped my arms around my knees. I would have to wait. I didn’t have any other choice. I pressed my clenched fist into my stomach when it growled again. I should’ve grabbed something at the airport – even a twenty dollar burger would have put something in my gut to stave off the ache.
My hunger didn’t hold off my exhaustion either. The jet lag was getting to me and I blinked heavy eyelids. The heat certainly didn’t help anything.
I licked my lips. I wasn’t going to be discouraged. My best-friend’s marriage had worked out from ClickandWed. Everybody had bumps in the beginning. Or should. I’m sure that’s all it was. A misunderstanding. He’d probably get there and we’d laugh.
I yawned and leaned my head against the post, watching as the neighborhood continued on. Nobody even knew or cared I was brand-new from Arkansas. Nobody knew I was newly married and had never met my husband.
Nobody knew how nervous I was.