Hailey Baker sunk her key into the doorknob and opened the door to her still-undecorated one-bedroom apartment. She kicked off her red wedges and rubbed the back of her heel where a blister had begun to form. Why is it that the cutest shoes are the most uncomfortable?
She made her way to her bedroom and slipped into her well-worn black yoga pants and over-sized Denver Nuggets t-shirt. She didn’t mind wearing business attire to the accounting firm, but the moment Hailey stepped inside her apartment, it was time to lose those stuffy clothes.
She plopped on the sofa and set her aching feet on the coffee table. It had been another long day at the office juggling accounts, creating spreadsheets, and balancing ledgers for her clients.
Her new Nikes, piled in the corner where she’d left them months ago, caught her eye. One of these days I need to get back to running and going to the gym. She blew out a long breath.
Grabbing the remote, she flicked on the TV. Friday night alone—again. What exciting thing could she do? She found her trusty companion as of late, Netflix, and started scanning through series she could binge watch. Nothing jumped out at her.
Hailey refused to feel sorry for herself. Or think about what Kevin might be doing tonight. It’d been almost three months since Valentine’s Day—the day she’d expected a marriage proposal, but instead her world had come crashing down around her when she witnessed the intimate embrace that left no doubt in Hailey’s mind he’d betrayed her. The memory still sent a piercing pain through her heart. She’d booted him out of her life, and she needed to stop letting him take up space in her head. He didn’t deserve it after what he’d done. The lyrics to Carrie Underwood’s song, Before He Cheats, popped into her head, and she smiled. If only.
She rose, went to the compact kitchen, and opened the refrigerator. Something smelled like it had crawled in and died. She rummaged through the contents and pulled out a styrofoam container from a luncheon she’d had with her co-workers before the tax season rush last month. This needs a straight trip to the dumpster.
With the offensive container in hand, Hailey slid her feet into her flip-flops and walked to the trash area next to her complex.
She tossed in the rotting mess and began making her way back to her apartment.
Before she could avoid him, Jimmy Vaughn headed her way.
“Hailey, baby. What’s going on? You are looking hot.” Jimmy gave her his slimiest smile as he smoothed his stringy black hair.
“Hi, Jimmy.” She said it in a monotone voice, hoping he’d get the hint she didn’t want to talk to him.
“How about you and me—”
“Sorry, Jimmy. I have plans tonight.” When it came to Jimmy, she had plans every night. For the rest of eternity.
“But you broke up with that slob you used to date—”
“Yeah, I know.” The whole world seemed to know that she was single. Did she have a neon sign blinking above her head?
“So?” Jimmy licked his lips then raised a bushy eyebrow.
She shook her head and started walking.
Jimmy sidled up next to her and walked in step. “Then how about me and you taking a ride on my bike up into the mountains tomorrow? We could make it a long weekend and go to Aspen.”
Ew, no. I’d rather walk barefoot across broken glass. Hailey clucked her tongue. “I’d love to, but I need to work tomorrow.”
“It’s Saturday,” he said with an accusatory tone.
“We’re open on Saturdays, and I have to go over some accounting with one of my clients.” Hailey picked up her pace. She wished her apartment wasn’t ten hundred miles away.
“Geez, Hail, you work all the time.”
“I know, Jimmy.” No one needed to remind her that her life revolved around accounting. At least numbers couldn’t rip your heart out then make mincemeat of it.
“Raincheck?” he asked.
Opening her door, Hailey backed inside. She shut the door without answering him. It’d be worth moving to another apartment to get away from Jimmy. His beady stare made her feel like she needed a shower. She was sure his mother must love him, but no way on this green earth would she ever agree to a date with him. Even if she had several cans of pepper spray with her.
Hailey popped a burrito into the microwave and while waiting for it to heat through, she grasped her long hair, twisted it into a messy bun, and secured it with a hair tie, reminding herself she was due for a trim. When the microwave timer dinged, Hailey took the plate to the couch and sat.
After a couple of bites, her phone started playing Beethoven’s Fur Elise. “Hi, Mom.”
“Hi, sweetie. How are you?”
“Good. Has Brit had the baby yet?” Hailey couldn’t wait to be an aunt again.
“No. The doctor says it may be a few more days. I’m staying at Brit’s house so I don’t have to drive all the way back to Denver every night, and I can help with Kyle.”
“I’m sure he loves having his grandma there full-time to spoil him.” Someday Hailey would have babies for her mom to spoil. At least she hoped so.
After a long pause, her mom said, “I have some bad news.”
“What?” Hailey drew in a deep breath.
“Harry had a stroke.”
Hailey’s heart plummeted to her stomach. Not Gramps. “Oh, no. When?”
“They think it was during the night sometime.”
“How is he?” She clenched her jaw while she waited for her mother’s reply.
“He’s stable, but he’s lost his ability to speak.”
“Forever?” She couldn’t imagine her animated grandpa, who loved to tell tall tales every chance he got, unable to speak.
“I don’t know. I’d like to go help, but with Brit having the baby any day, I can’t.” Hailey could hear the desperation in her mom’s voice. “I’m not sure what to do.”
“Do you have any details?”
“When June woke him he couldn’t speak. She wasn’t sure what to do, so she called 911.”
“Poor Gran. I bet she was terrified.” Hailey wanted to magically transport herself to Florida, give her grandma a hug, and tell her everything would be okay. Because it had to be.
“After the doctors ran some tests, they said he’d had a stroke.”
“What’s the prognosis?” Hailey steeled herself for the answer.
“He’ll need some speech therapy for sure. I don’t know what else.”
Hailey rubbed her forehead. “Will he be able to live in his house anymore?”
“I don’t know. You know how stressed Grandma June gets, and with all of her eye problems she doesn’t drive anymore. I don’t know what they’ll do. They can’t afford to put him in a facility and—”
“Mom? Are you there?” Rustling sounded, as if the phone had been dropped.
“Yes, I’m here. Sorry. Oh, hang on a minute, Hailey. . . Kyle, I’m coming. Let me tell Aunt Hailey goodbye. . . I better go, honey.”
“Okay, but please keep me updated on him. And on Brit. I’m planning to drive up to Fort Collins when she has the baby.”
Hailey ended the call. She was no longer interested in eating her burrito, so she headed to her bedroom. Memories of her grandparents swirled around her head. After her father died, they had doted on her and Brit. They’d lived a few streets over until Gramps retired from the police force and he and Gran moved to Florida.
Hailey turned to her side, anxiety and fear enveloping her. What would her grandparents do now? They needed help and her loser aunt wouldn’t be any. No one even knew where Regina was these days. Probably in some bar hustling customers.
If only Hailey could do something. But what? She was in Colorado Springs, almost two thousand miles away from Gran and Gramps. How could she possibly help, especially with her job? She tossed and turned through the night, alternating between warm, happy memories and the cold reality that Gramps had had a stroke.
After a fitful sleep, Hailey trudged into the bathroom. She gazed at her dark circles and dull eyes. I look awesome. She blew out a breath. I need to do something to help Gramps.
An idea sparked, but she wasn’t sure if she could pull it off. Hailey hurried to her closet and pulled on some navy slacks and a pink paisley shirt then brushed her teeth and dragged a brush through her tangled hair.
On her way to the office, she practiced what she was going to say to her boss and made adjustments here and there. When she arrived at the parking lot, she had exactly what she wanted to say.
“Hey, Jenna, is Mr. Michaels in?” Hailey asked the young receptionist who always wore vivid pink lipstick and had long manicured nails.
“Uh, yeah. He’s in his office with a client. What’s going on?”
“What do you mean?”
“You look stressed or something. Your face is all red.”
Hailey wiped at her cheeks. “My mom called last night about my grandfather.”
“Oh no.” She wore a sympathetic expression. “Bad news?”
“He had a stroke.” She hated saying those words.
“Does he live here?” Jenna asked, her brown eyes filled with compassion.
“No. He and Gran live in Daytona Beach.”
“That’s right.” Jenna tapped her temple. “I remember you talking about them. I’m sorry to hear about his stroke. Is there anything I can do?”
“I don’t think so, but I need to talk to Mr. Michaels.” Hailey squared her shoulders as if that would give her the dose of courage she needed.
Jenna checked her computer screen. “Hmm. He should be free soon. He doesn’t have another appointment until ten-thirty.”
“Thanks. Can you let me know when this client leaves?” The sooner she could speak with him, the better.
“Sure.” Jenna nodded.
Hailey made her way back to her office, still rehearsing what she wanted to say to convince her boss to let her take some time off. She was certain what needed to happen. If she could go to Florida for a few weeks, or even a month, she could provide the help and support her grandparents needed while Gramps recovered.
About twenty minutes later, Jenna called to let Hailey know Mr. Michaels was free. He was a decent guy and had been a good boss for the last four years. Hailey hoped he’d be reasonable and let her take the time off.
Hailey knocked on his door and he told her to come inside.
“Hi, Mr. Michaels.”
“Hailey, how are you today?” He adjusted his wire-rimmed glasses and focused on her.
“I’ve been better.”
He looked at her with concern. “What’s wrong?”
“My grandfather had a stroke night before last.” Hailey tried to keep the emotion out of her voice.
“I’m so sorry to hear that,” he said with sincerity.
“And, I, well, I,” she stammered. Don’t be such a scaredy cat. Just say it.
Mr. Michaels studied her. Asking for time off wasn’t as easy as she’d hoped. “Is there something you want to say?” he asked.
All the careful rehearsing she’d done previously fell right out of her brain. She struggled to find the right words. “I . . . uh . . . you see . . . I’d like to . . .”
“Can I take some time off?” Hailey finally blurted out.
Mr. Michaels pulled his dark eyebrows together and sat back in his brown leather chair, making it creak with his movement.
Hailey swallowed. “I need to go to Florida. My grandparents have always been so good to me, and they need help right now since my grandma doesn’t drive anymore. There isn’t anyone else that can do it. Tax season is over, and I haven’t used much of my vacation time since I started working here. And,” she added, “I can continue to work for clients while I’m there.” She chewed her lip in anticipation.
“You are one of my best accountants. And one of the hardest workers.” He smoothed his thick salt-and-pepper hair.
Hailey relaxed a bit, waiting for him to agree to her time off.
“But, I don’t think I can spare you right now. We’re going to start doing the bookkeeping for the Tundar Corporation and I need you to head that up.”
Hailey’s shoulders fell. She didn’t want to disappoint her boss, but she couldn’t think about anything but going to Florida. “Oh.”
“I really need you to be here,” he said as he laced his fingers together. “I’m sorry. I know you haven’t taken much personal time and you are concerned about your grandfather, but the firm must come first. You understand.”
“Yes, sir. I do.” Except she didn’t. Not at all. Work was important, but it shouldn’t supersede family. Why didn’t he understand that? “Thank you for considering my request.” Numbly, she turned and walked out of his office, a massive weight hanging around her neck.
Maybe Gran and Gramps would be okay without her. Nurses and in-home caretakers were abundant there, because Florida was the retirement capital of the world. They’d probably be fine. Maybe Mr. Michaels was right and her first loyalty should be to the accounting firm, especially because she was only beginning her career and didn’t want to risk losing her job at this prestigious firm. After all, that’s why she agreed to work on Saturdays. If she wanted to get ahead, she had to sacrifice.
During her lunch break, she sat in her office and gazed out the window trying to convince herself everything would be fine when a knock sounded.
Jenna poked her head in. “When are you leaving for Florida?”
“I’m not.” Tears built behind her eyes. Even though her boss was probably right, Hailey wasn’t at all convinced. She wanted to help her grandparents, first and foremost, but part of her also saw this as a welcome break from all the memories of Kevin that seemed to haunt her.
“Why?” Jenna came inside the office and sat in the chair opposite Hailey’s desk. “What happened?”
“We’re getting a big client and Mr. Michaels doesn’t feel like he can let me take any vacation time right now. At least not until we get everything organized for this Tundar Corporation.” As she said it, her resentment built.
“Maybe you can go after that?” Jenna said in a hopeful tone.
“I have no idea how long it will be. And my grandparents need me now, not in a few weeks or months.” She rubbed her forehead. “There isn’t anyone else who can help. I have to do something, but I don’t know what.”
“I’m sorry Mr. Michaels said no.”
“Me too.” Hailey felt like a week-old wilted flower.
“Do you want go out and get some comfort food?” Jenna raised her professionally-shaped eyebrows.
“No, thanks. I need to finish up some reports for Crandall Automotive.” Maybe doing some work would keep Hailey’s mind off Gramps. Or not.
“I can bring you something back.” Jenna rose.
“I’ll be fine.” Hailey wasn’t interested in food, only in figuring out how to help her grandparents. There simply had to be a way.
After Jenna left, Hailey cradled her head in her hands. Why was her boss being so unreasonable? Other accountants could handle this new corporation. Wanting to help her grandparents seemed like the right thing to do. Her stomach twisted into double and triple knots. All she could think about was Gramps and poor Gran—who was probably sick with worry and shouldering all the stress. Memories of all the times her grandparents had been there for her after her dad died played in Hailey’s mind. Now it was her turn to be there for them. She had to do something.
Hailey stood and sucked in a deep breath of courage. She marched herself down to her boss’s office again. Lifting her quaking hand, she knocked on the door, but didn’t wait to be invited in.
Mr. Michaels gave her a sharp look then said, “Excuse me for a moment,” into the receiver of his phone. He punched a key to mute the call. “Hailey, I’m speaking with a client right now.”
“I apologize. I’ll wait.” She sat in the chair across from his desk, her heart rapping against her ribs.
When he finished his call, he glared at her and she resisted the urge to run screaming from his office.
“What is it?” he asked curtly.
“I really do need to take some time off to help my grandparents.”
His jaw tightened. “We already discussed this.”
“I realize I’m putting my job at risk, but, in this case, family has to come first. My grandparents desperately need help, and I’m the only one who can go. Without me, they’ll really struggle, and I can’t live with that.”
Mr. Michaels tapped the desk with his fingers while Hailey’s heartbeat thrummed in her ears. She’d never been so bold before and wasn’t sure what had gotten into her. She hoped it wouldn’t result in her termination from the company, but if it did, she’d have to deal with it after she went to Florida.
Finally, Mr. Michaels said, “I suppose we can make arrangements. I will assign someone else to the Tundar Corporation. You understand you are passing up a valuable opportunity that may have significant repercussions to your career?”
She licked her parched lips. “Yes, I understand.”
“If you will commit to working long-distance and maintain your clients without any problems, you may take some time off.”
“Thank you.” Relief washed over her.
With a stern tone, he said, “I expect you back in this office before the beginning of next quarter.”
“I will be here by the end of June.” She’d have to make it all work somehow.
“If not,” he peered at her over his glasses, “you will need to find another job.”
“Thank you.” Her gratitude outweighed her fear, but only by a fraction.
Hailey stood. Before she got to the door, Mr. Michaels said, “Hailey?”
She turned to look at him, bracing herself for more conditions to her leave of absence.
“I hope your grandfather recovers.” He sat back in his chair and gazed at her. “You’re doing a good thing.”
Hailey nodded and left, taken aback at his unexpected kindness. Mr. Michaels has a heart after all. Who knew?
Peter Stafford walked into the tan steel building that housed the karate school. He spotted Laura to his left, and she waved him over. “Thanks for coming, Pete.”
He sat on one of the metal chairs at the edge of the gray mat. “Of course.” Peter tried to attend as many functions as he could.
“Benji is so excited to test today,” she said. Peter admired how much Laura loved Benji.
A thin man with red hair and a goatee, who was dressed in a white karate uniform, called all the students to attention. He turned to the audience. “Thank you for coming to our demonstration and belt testing tonight. The students have all been working hard to show you what they’ve been learning here at Seaside Martial Arts School. Please be respectful as they complete their testing.” The man walked over to the edge of the mat.
Two lines of kids formed on the far side.
“Is Benji nervous?” Peter gazed at the young boy.
She leaned in and whispered. “He’s been practicing like crazy.”
“He seems to like karate.” It was obvious by the grin on his face that Benji enjoyed what he was doing.
“He loves it.” She turned to him. “And he loves that you come to see him. I can’t tell you how much it means to both of us.” She smiled, but Peter could see the sadness in her blue eyes.
“You know how much I love him. I want to always be here for him. For both of you.”
Laura sat up, her blond hair falling across her shoulders. “Oh, look, Benji is testing.” She clasped her hands together.
The barefoot man with the goatee yelled out some words and the boys and girls all responded by making formations with their arms.
“I know nothing about karate except what I’ve seen Benji do,” Peter said. “I wish I could help coach him.”
“I know even less than you do.” She shrugged.
They continued to watch the exhibition and when it was over, Benji came rushing to them. He threw himself into Peter’s arms. “Uncle Peter, I’m so glad you’re here. Did you see me get my orange belt?”
“I sure did. Great job,” Peter said. He held up his hand, and Benji slapped it.
“You were the best one out there.” Laura tousled his light brown hair then hugged him close.
“Aw, Mom, you always say stuff like that.”
“Because it’s true.” She clapped him on the back.
“How about we go out for some pizza to celebrate?” Peter said.
“All right. That’s my favorite,” Benji said with enthusiasm and a wide grin that exposed crooked front teeth.
“I didn’t know that.” Peter’s eyes grew large and he acted like he’d never heard that before.
“Yes, you did.” Benji rolled his eyes.
“You’re right. Pizza is your favorite meal and Cookies and Cream ice cream is your favorite dessert. Unless your mom makes her extra special brownies then those are your favorite.”
Benji laughed. “Yep.”
“I still think you were the best one out there. And to be an orange belt at nine years old is pretty awesome.” Laura put her arm around her son. “Let’s get that pizza.”
At Pizza Palace, after placing their order, they sat at a shiny wooden table near a window. A mixture of baking bread and garlic scents wafted through the air. Benji slurped his soda while they waited for their pepperoni and sausage pizza. When it finally arrived, Benji gulped it down in a few bites. “Slow down there, honey,” Laura said. “You don’t have to eat the entire pizza in five minutes.”
“But I want to go play a video game.” He shoved a bite in his mouth. “Can I?”
Peter whipped out some tokens. “I thought you might ask.”
Benji grinned and took the gold-colored coins. “Thanks.”
“You’re so good to him,” Laura said taking a piece of pizza and placing it on her plate. “I’m glad we decided to move here by you.”
“Me too. It gives us more time together than when you lived in Orlando.”
Laura’s face saddened. “But he misses Grandma.”
Peter sipped his soda. “With any luck, I’ll convince her to move out here too. She doesn’t need that house anymore.”
“But that’s her home.” Laura took a bite of pizza.
“I know, but I worry about her living there alone.” Peter bit into his piece. “I try to see her as much as I can, but life is busy here.”
“Then I’m grateful you can squeeze in time for us.” Laura elbowed him.
“Of course.” Peter scanned the room and watched Benji playing a game. “I love spending time with Benji.”
“And he needs that.”
Peter looked at Laura. “I know I can’t ever replace Sam, but I want to help as much as possible. I know it’s been hard.”
“Yeah. It’s been pretty hard.” She picked a pepperoni off her slice and ate it. “I understood the risk of being a military wife, but I didn’t think about how it would affect my child. I knew Sam might not come home in an abstract sense, but I didn’t think that would actually happen. You know?” She swished her soda around the glass with her straw. “I never thought I’d be widowed, especially before I was thirty.”
Peter slung his arm around Laura. “I’m sorry. Sam was a great guy and he really loved you and Benji.”
“Yes, he did.” A wrinkle formed between her eyebrows. “And I don’t want Benji to forget his dad.”
“He won’t.” Peter wanted to reassure her.
Laura leaned her head against Peter’s shoulder. “I’m glad we have you.”
He smiled and said, “That’s what brothers are for.”
When Hailey arrived home that night, she sat on her couch and called her mom. “I’ve made arrangements to go to Florida and help until Gramps is feeling better.” Saying it to her mom convinced her even more that it was the right thing to do.
“You have? What about your job?” She could hear the alarm in her mom’s voice.
“I already talked to my boss and he agreed to some time off as long as I maintain my clients.” Of course, he’d given her a time limit, which was stressful, but she couldn’t worry about that right now. She could only concentrate on helping her grandparents and hope the timeline her boss had given her would work.
“Are you sure?”
“And I need some time away. Ever since, you know, the break-up with Kevin, it’s been hard. Really hard. Everywhere I go, I see memories.” She shook her head. “Besides, I haven’t seen Gran and Gramps for a long time. I’d love to spend time with them and soak up some Florida sunshine. I don’t get to the beach much here in Colorado Springs.” She laughed at her own joke.
“As soon as Brit has her baby—”
“No worries, Mom. You take care of Brit and her family. I got this.”
After the phone call, Hailey felt lighter. As if the heavy boulder that had hung around her neck for the last couple months was cut off, and she was free to do something else besides wallow. Helping her grandparents would benefit her as much as it would them. She could focus on them and stop thinking about the cheater she’d wanted to marry.
She logged onto her computer and found a flight.
Within twenty-four hours, she’d be in Florida.
Hailey boarded the Delta plane at Colorado Springs Airport. The flight to Atlanta, where she had a layover, would take almost three hours, so she rested her head against her seat, trying to reassure herself that planes were perfectly safe. When the engines began to roar, she closed her eyes briefly and said a silent prayer that they’d make it without crashing. If she had her way, she’d never fly anywhere.
Thoughts of Gramps having his stroke suddenly bombarded her mind, and worry wormed its way through her stomach. How would he be when she arrived? Would he know her? Would he ever be able to speak again? What if he had another stroke?
After they’d been in the air ten minutes or so, the middle-aged woman with black hair and large gold hoop earrings that sat next to her said, “I love to fly. Don’t you?”
“Uh, no. Not really.” Who wanted to be in a large, metal object hurtling through the air at five hundred miles an hour, thirty thousand feet above the ground? An object that could plunge to the earth at any given moment and burst into a fiery explosion.
“Where are you going?” Her deep brown eyes seemed to peer into Hailey’s soul.
“To Daytona Beach.”
The curvaceous woman grasped Hailey’s hand in hers. “My name is Salima.”
Hailey resisted the urge to yank her hand out of the woman’s grip. Why is she holding my hand? She’s a little creepy.
“You are worried. Yes?”
Hailey gave a slight nod. Definitely weird.
“You should not be.”
“Okay.” Now that the strange woman had said there was no need to worry, Hailey felt so much better. Except she didn’t. At all.
“You are on your way to your destiny.”
Destiny? Is she for real? “Oh. I am.” Hailey squelched the laugh that rose up in her throat. She didn’t want to be rude, but this lady was a serious whacko.
“I can see the future.” Salima said it with a little too much dramatic flair.
Hailey had met a woman like this once when she was with Gran at a circus. That lady was dressed in a brightly-colored flowing skirt and wore a dozen or more gold bracelets. For a dollar, she would tell you your future. Hailey was sure this woman sitting next to her was as nutty as the fortune teller at the circus.
“Many do not believe. But I speak the truth. You go now because you seek to soothe those you love, but in the end,” she pulled Hailey’s hand closer to her and continued, “it will be your heart that receives what it needs.”
Hailey nodded then eased her hand out of the woman’s. Her heart didn’t need anything except lots of distance from memories of Kevin. “I’m going to help my grandparents. Gramps had a stroke.”
Salima gave a knowing nod. “Ah, yes. The reason for your distress.”
The plane dropped then felt like it was vibrating. Hailey’s stomach turned upside down. She squeezed her eyes shut because she was far more concerned at the moment that they’d all end up in a heap of twisted metal.
Salima placed her warm, chubby hand on Hailey’s. “No need to worry. It is not your destiny to die in a plane crash. Nor is it mine.”
This woman was peculiar for sure, but somehow her words calmed Hailey in an odd sort of way. She hoped Salima was right. This plane ride couldn’t end fast enough. Hailey wanted to plant her feet back on solid ground ASAP.
Hailey took some deep, cleansing breaths then pulled out a novel by Rachael Anderson and lost herself in the plight of the characters and the relaxing setting in Hawaii. When some turbulence hit again, she gripped the armrest and closed her eyes, counting backward from one hundred. When she finished, she gulped her soda and skimmed through the magazine in the seat pocket in front of her. This airplane ride was taking far too long. Finally, the plane came to a skittery stop in Atlanta.
“Remember, your destiny awaits you,” Salima offered with confidence.
Hailey nodded. All that awaited her was taking care of her grandparents. And a welcome escape from the heartache in Colorado.
She found a row of chairs near the next gate and pulled out her phone to check her email and skim through Facebook and Instagram.
On the next flight, she didn’t sit by any eccentric people who wanted to tell her fortune—only a lady and her crying baby. As they neared Daytona Beach, Hailey’s nerves tingled. She wasn’t sure what she’d find when she saw Gramps. Last time she’d seen him, he was as lively as ever, telling terrible jokes and making homemade ice cream. He loved to play Gin Rummy and was the family champ. Thinking about those memories warmed her heart, and she hoped he’d be back to the same old Gramps soon so they could play cards again.
She refused to think about her grandparents getting older and having strokes and other health issues. As far as she was concerned, they would live forever.
Hailey deboarded the plane, grateful to be on the ground again, and walked over to the luggage carousel to collect her bulging suitcase. She wasn’t sure exactly how long she’d be staying, so she’d crammed as much as possible into the bag.
Walking outside the glass doors to the airport, Hailey was hit with a wall of humidity. She wasn’t in the dry air of Colorado anymore—that was for sure. Her skin reacted immediately and little droplets of perspiration formed at her hairline.
She found a taxi.
“Where can I take you?” the man with a black mustache asked.
Hailey gave him the address to her grandparents’ house.
She hadn’t visited them here in almost four years. Moving to Colorado Springs and trying to get settled in the accounting firm had prevented any travel—something she now regretted.
Palm trees lined the streets and the bright green grass reminded her she was in an area that received plenty of water. She missed the rugged Rocky Mountains that lined the horizon at home, but welcomed the chance to spend time with Gran and Gramps and maybe even go to the beach.
Before she knew it, the cab arrived at the small, beige house in her grandparents’ retirement community. They’d moved here over ten years ago after Gramps had retired from the police force in Denver where he’d served almost forty years.
“Thanks for the ride.” Hailey gave the driver some cash and retrieved her suitcase.
The front door flung open before Hailey even reached it, and Gran stood there in white polyester pants, a coral blouse, and her dangly earrings, with arms outstretched. Hailey melted into her, inhaling the familiar floral scent.
“Let me look at you.” Gran eyed her up and down. “You need to put on some weight. And your hair is so much longer, and it seems darker, than the last time I saw you. But you still have the same beautiful blue eyes like your daddy. You sure look like him.” Gran gave her another hug. “Come inside and see Grandpa Harry.”