A Family Affair will be available in ebook and paperback on 17 August 2022. The audio, narrated by Abby Craden, will follow a few months later.
Here’s a preview. Enjoy!
A Family Affair
© Harper Bliss
Even though I designed every gorgeous detail of this place, I don’t want to live here. I’m almost forty and I’m moving into my mother-in-law’s pool house. This was not how things were meant to go.
“Do you need a hand?” Stella shouts from her lounge chair by the pool.
When I glance back at her, she hasn’t even looked up from the script she’s studying—lest anyone in this family forget she’s auditioning for a big part alongside Nora Levine in a few days.
“Here you go, babe.” Kevin hands me a bottle of water. “It’s only for a few weeks.” He squeezes my shoulder. “Our house will be ready and beautiful in no time. Trust me.”
I want to trust my husband so very badly. I want to trust him with the same passion I felt when I said ‘I do’ at our wedding. But so much has happened—and hasn’t happened—since that day.
“I’m not asking again,” Stella shouts.
“We’ve barely moved in,” I hiss at Kevin, “and already your sister’s getting on my nerves with her entitled ways.”
“Cut her some slack,” Kevin says, predictably. “She’s preparing for—”
“No need to say it.” I take a deep breath. “And I’m sorry.” None of this is Stella’s fault, although she’s still a spoiled brat, convinced, as she has been since the first day I met her, that her big break is just around the corner.
“I’m going by the house one last time to pick up the rest of our stuff.” Kevin pecks me on the cheek. “Try to get settled in.” He flashes me a grin. “Or hang out with my lovely little sister by the pool.”
I roll my eyes and sigh, but none of that makes any difference to my current situation. I glance at Stella, who is talking to herself, running lines, as though she’s all alone in her mother’s backyard.
“I hope I’m not bothering you too much,” I say, just to vent my frustration.
“You could never bother me, Kate.” Stella puts down the script and pushes herself up. Her smile looks genuine enough. She knows why we’re here. Perhaps she’s not so self-absorbed that she can’t muster a smidgen of compassion for her brother and his barren wife. “It’s great that you and Kev are staying here. The more, the merrier, now that Mom has moved Keanu in.”
I walk over and sink into the chair next to hers. “As long as you don’t expect me to make you dinner.”
Stella shakes her head. She fixes her gaze on me but remains silent. Her shirt has fallen open and all she’s wearing underneath is a skimpy bikini.
“Just a heads-up,” Stella says after a few seconds. “Keanu’s cooking us a big family dinner tonight.” Keanu is not Mary’s boyfriend’s real name, but Stella has taken to calling him that because of his resemblance to Keanu Reeves in his Point Break days, laid-back surfer vibes included. “That should be fun.” To say that Stella doesn’t approve of her mother’s choice of partner is an understatement—probably because she has to share her mom’s attention. But I say, good for Mary. And Keanu—whose real name is Nathan—is very easy on the eye.
“That sounds like fun, actually,” I say.
“Kevin’s not too crazy about him either, you know.”
“I know.” But Kevin’s mature enough to not let it show every time he gets the chance. Kevin respects his mother enough to just let her be happy with whomever she wants to be with. But that’s too much to ask from the likes of Stella, who still lives at home at twenty-eight because she claims she can’t afford her own place until she gets that ‘big break’. While LA rent is steep, Stella could move out if she really wanted to, but she’s too spoiled at Mary’s. Case in point, she’s rehearsing pool-side for her upcoming audition.
“How’s that going?” I nod at the script because I don’t feel like talking about Nathan behind his back any longer. If that means indulging Stella, then that’s what I’ll do. At least that way, I also don’t have to talk about myself, and the reason Kev and I ended up here.
“I’ve never been so nervous in my life.” Stella sounds pretty confident to me. “Not even when I had to kiss Faye Fleming.”
I try not to roll my eyes and, despite myself, giggle like a teenage girl at the mention of Faye’s name. The urge to giggle wins out because I’ve always had a soft spot for Faye Fleming and my irritating sister-in-law got to play her lesbian lover on screen—a fact she likes to remind me of every chance she gets.
If it was anyone else, I’d offer to run lines with her, but this is Stella, Kevin’s exasperating little sister, and today of all days, I can’t bring myself to do it.
“I’m sure you’ll smash it,” I say on a sigh.
“Hey, Kate.” Stella’s voice goes all mellow. “Are you okay? Today’s pretty rough, I bet.”
I run a hand through my hair and take a deep breath. “Kev just really wants to do this. To create some sort of impossible clean slate. To give us a different house to return to after…” It’s still hard to say, but Stella knows.
“That’s Kev. He needs to be busy. He needs to build something. It’s how he processes.”
“How are you… processing?” Stella asks.
I’m not, so I just shrug.
The touch of Stella’s hand on my shoulder startles me. “Faye and Ida are hosting a cast party the day after the movie premieres next week. Would you like to be my plus-one?”
“Faye Fleming and Ida Burton?”
“Yes.” Stella flashes me a big smile. Maybe she’s not as bad as I thought. Maybe I’ve been too caught up in my own struggles to give my sister-in-law the benefit of the doubt.
“You want to take me to their party?” Incredulously, I bring a hand to my chest.
“I sure do.” She looks at me in a way that allows me to see, maybe for the first time since I met her, that Stella Flack could be a movie star in her own right. She has the kind of commercial smile that dazzles Hollywood executives, and the girl-next-door-with-a-little-extra air about her that moviegoers can’t resist.
“Hell, yes!” I shout. “Thank you so much.”
“That’s what family’s for,” Stella says. “To make each other feel better.”
I’ve yet to meet anyone more intelligent than my mother. She has built the most outrageous architectural marvels all over the world, yet she can’t pick a suitable man to save her life. I get what she sees in Keanu, though. He’s eye candy. A gorgeous man on her arm when she goes to a cocktail party. Like a trophy wife in reverse—and thank goodness they aren’t married. Sure, Keanu’s hot, but he would be. He’s barely older than me. One year and seven days to be exact. He could be a guy I hang out with at one of those achingly hip East Hollywood hotspots. All he’s missing, really, is a man bun. Instead, his hair is suavely draped along his cheeks, nineties style, so he can tuck it behind his ears with one of those cute gestures Mom goes crazy for—I know because she has told him so in front of her own children, one of whom is older than him.
The whole situation is infuriating, but as my brother put it not so long ago when I was off on a long rant against Keanu again: I don’t have to live here. I could get a place of my own, which might allow me to deal with my mother’s toy boy better. I wouldn’t have to see him in the morning wearing only his boxers, pecs all taut and biceps perfectly sculpted. But this is my house, too. I grew up here. I’ve lived here all my life, and as far as I’m concerned, Keanu is the intruder, so he should be the one to leave.
Mom walks to the dining table. “Darling,” she says while grabbing me gently by the shoulders before planting a kiss on my cheeks. “Just so we’re clear. I’m bringing Nathan to your big premiere next week.”
I’m of half a mind to wiggle myself out of her impromptu embrace, but the mention of the movie I have a small but not insignificant part in softens me. My mother knows how to play me. She raised me. She knows better than anyone which buttons to push.
“Guess who scored an invite to the after party at Faye Fleming and Ida Burton’s?” Kate all but screams. She points both of her thumbs at her well-shaped chest. “Moi!” Totally out of character, she blows me a kiss. I’m well aware my sister-in-law isn’t my biggest fan, but she and my brother have been through a lot. Life hasn’t been going their way and they’re family.
“Wow.” Mom gives my shoulder a squeeze. “You’re not taking Hayley? She’ll be upset.”
“Hayley’s not my girlfriend. I don’t have to take her everywhere I go.”
“Fair enough,” Mom says, before a short silence falls.
“My mom still plays old Lady Kings records all the time,” Keanu says, clearly not caring how that refocuses the attention on his scandalously young age.
How does Keanu’s mother feel about her son dating a woman almost twice his age? I scan Mom’s face for distress at Keanu mentioning his mother but find none. All the qualms that she doesn’t have about their affair, I have a thousandfold.
“I hope Kevin can make it.” Mom checks her watch ostentatiously. She can deal with just about anything, except for people being late, especially to a dinner her boyfriend cooked. She follows up with a sigh.
We all know Kev’s going to be late because he got sucked into the remodel of his and Kate’s house—which is already perfect because he and my mother designed it—and lost track of time. Because, right now, it’s the only thing that makes him forget he’s not going to be a dad—at least not any time soon, or maybe never. For that same reason, Mom has already forgiven him for being late.
I eye Kate. She seems resigned to the fact Kevin’s not here. That he said he was going by the house to pick up some stuff three hours ago and still hasn’t returned. That he’s leaving her to deal with her feelings about all of this on her own. That’s my brother for you. But he’d better make it to my premiere, although if he didn’t, I’d have to forgive him for that instantly as well.
“I can’t believe I’m going to meet Faye Fleming.” Kate has her own way of dealing with her emotions, so it seems. Although she has always been very vocal about being ‘gay for Faye’. “I think it’s only now sinking in that you played her lover.” She fixes her gaze on me.
I smile at her, then run a fingertip over my lips. “These lips were on Faye’s.” I love nothing more than putting on a show, than being the center of attention, and this family needs all the distraction it can get right now. Maybe that’s why my mom has always supported my dream of becoming an actor. We already had enough left-brained, ultra-serious people in our family.
Kate plays along and clasps her hands to her mouth. “Stop right there, Stella. Don’t tease me like that.”
“Can’t wait to see your movie, darling.” Mom sits there grinning. She has always been such a good sport about everything. I should really try to return the favor when it comes to Keanu—to Nathan—but it’s hard. I’m probably not mature enough yet. Besides, my bedroom’s on the same floor as hers, and I’m not deaf. I hear things a daughter’s ears should never be subjected to. I should have moved into the pool house as soon as she brought Keanu home, but that’s no longer an option now.
“It’s hardly my movie, Mom.” My voice drips with false modesty. My part as queer rock legend Lana Lynch’s much younger lover may be small—Cleo Palmer hasn’t been with Lana long enough to get a lot of screen time in a movie about her life—but it’s big in its own way. Cleo is nothing less than Lana’s redemption. And I got to kiss Faye Fleming. If that’s the only thing my sister-in-law can respect me for, I’ll take it.
“Still, I can’t wait to see you play an older woman’s much younger girlfriend,” Mom says, while draping an arm around Nathan.
“Touché,” Kate adds.
I can hardly say the movie’s fiction. It’s a biopic based on Lana Lynch’s life, and there’s nothing fictionalized about it. “Fine. I’m a hypocrite.” I throw up my hands in supplication. But it’s not the same when it’s your mother. Lana Lynch doesn’t have children. All things I can’t say out loud, but are all nothing but the truth.
“Do you all know I’m auditioning for this super-hyped Nora Levine project next week?” I’d rather they mock me for my self-absorbed ways than for my inability to accept Nathan into our family.
“It’s hard to forget, darling,” Mom says.
Kate just sighs one of her more spectacularly disdainful sighs.
The only one who shoots me an encouraging smile is my would-be stepdad, Nathan.
<<End of preview>>
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