Two Hearts Alone (Two Hearts Trilogy – Book One) will be out on 13 February 2020.
Here’s a preview. Enjoy!
Two Hearts Alone
(Two Hearts Trilogy – Book One)
© Harper Bliss
Hemingway doesn’t care that it’s snowing outside. He sits by the front door, waiting for me. I’ve tried ignoring him for ten minutes, but even when I don’t see him, I can still sort of see him. That sad, disappointed face with the dramatically droopy eyes, which he only ever puts on when I don’t snap on his leash at 10 a.m. sharp.
But the mid-January cold seems to have seeped into my bones and the prospect of going outside fills me with more dread than usual.
“Remind me again why I got you?” I ask Hemingway.
He turns his face toward me and turns up the drama in his eyes, his snout pointing wistfully toward the door.
As soon as I grab my coat, Hemingway perks up. He wags his tail in anticipation.
“You and I,” I mumble, “we’re not the same. I wonder how we can even live together.” I’m reminded of a podcast I listened to the other week, in which someone claimed that dogs used to walk themselves. But walking Hemingway is one of the reasons I got him in the first place. If I didn’t have to take him out twice daily, I’d never leave my house most days. He’s my connection to the outside world.
Hemingway gives an excited bark as I put on his leash. I find my warmest hat and gloves, and head into the snow.
The cold hits me hard in the face, but Hemingway is pulling on his leash, and I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself. He tugs me forward along our usual route. I half-walk half-jog behind him, keeping my face down. Because Donovan Grove is the kind of town where people keep their driveways clear, it’s not that hard to make my way along the sidewalk, but I do have to ask Hemingway to moderate his tempo for fear of slipping on the snow. It wouldn’t be the first time. When I got him two years ago, in the middle of winter, I let his enthusiasm get the best of me a few times and paid for it by ending up face-down in the snow.
What I like most about Hemingway is that he’s so utterly predictable. Every single day, he does his business on the same street corner—and I dispose of it in the doggy waste bin that was put there especially for Hemingway’s needs by the Donovan Grove council. I would never have requested a waste bin myself, but for some reason my mother felt it necessary. So, there it is.
“Good boy, Hem.” I give him a scratch behind the ear and, in return, he gives me a look filled with such love it almost makes me forget about the cold.
We continue our walk. The streets are quiet, even Main Street where usually a few shoppers dwell. I follow Hemingway’s paw prints on the thin layer of snow that has fallen since the sidewalk was last shoveled. Then I slowly get used to the cold and I lift my head up a little higher. This is how it goes every single day in winter. Getting out of the house is the hardest part, but once I’m out, I try to enjoy the walk as much as Hemingway does.
The familiarity of my surroundings soothes me. The window displays in the stores change as we cycle through every season, but that’s about it. When we reach the end of Main Street, I do notice something different. Bookends, the bookstore that’s been empty for months, has a light on inside.
And not just that, but a big heart’s been spray-painted onto the window.
“Oh no,” I mumble, making Hemingway stop in his tracks. “Don’t tell me the old bookstore will be turning into some cheesy gift shop.”
I peer through the window and I can hardly believe my eyes. Granted, it’s been a while since I actually looked through the window, since the place has been boarded up for months, but still, the transformation from derelict bookstore to whatever this is, is impressive.
The old, dark bookshelves have been painted with bright colors and stacks of books are waiting to find their place. My heart does a little jump at the prospect of the bookstore reopening, but then my gaze is drawn to the big heart on the window again. Inside it, also spray-painted, someone—presumably the new owner—has written: Valentine’s Day is coming!
I only got rid of my Christmas tree last week—always a bit of a sad event. Not only because I love the coziness of Christmas, but also because soon enough, and the evidence is already glaring straight at me, I’ll be reminded of how society believes it’s awful and pitiful that I’m single. It’s bad enough already that my mother thinks so, although she has gotten a bit better at hiding her dismay.
“Can you believe this?” I mutter under my breath, my words visible in the small cloud that emanates from my mouth. But Hemingway doesn’t care. He just wants to get on with his walk.
“We’ll go in a second,” I reassure him, not that he understands. I look past the ridiculous drawing and words on the window and try to see more of the store inside. Mrs. Fincher, who ran the bookstore until she retired last summer, always had a recommendation for me whenever I came in—and I did often. The closing of the old Bookends left a gaping hole in my schedule for a long time. But Mrs. Fincher, especially after Mr. Fincher passed away, hated Valentine’s Day as much as I do, and she would never have disgraced her store window with a ludicrous drawing of a heart. In fact, I’d wager, if she were to walk past right now and notice it, she might have a heart attack, just like her husband did.
“This is basically a health hazard,” I say, but Hemingway still doesn’t care. He has calmed down now and sits quietly by my side, glancing around.
I see some movement in the shop. A young woman—she can’t be older than Jaden, my nephew—is hauling a big box.
The sight of another human is enough to make me back away from the window and continue my walk swiftly.
“Someone weird was just looking inside,” Brooklyn says. “They hurried off as soon as they saw me though.”
“A future satisfied customer, no doubt.” I have to keep my own spirits up as well as my daughter’s.
“There isn’t much else in this town, so sure, Mom.” At least Brooklyn’s trying today, as opposed to yesterday, when I could barely get her out of bed. The move from Queens to upstate New York is much harder on her, especially because it’s happening in the middle of the school year. Things have not gone down the way either of us had planned.
“It will take some time, sweetie,” I repeat. It seems to have become my mantra. Things will change for you as soon as you start school again, I add in my head. If I were to say it out loud, it wouldn’t go down well. The changing of schools is still a very sore subject—which I do understand.
Brooklyn looks around the store, which is a mess. We only removed the shutters last night. The first thing I did this morning was paint an obnoxiously big heart on the window. I refuse to let my lonely heart make me cynical—or I can at least pretend that it doesn’t.
“That you gave up your cushy Amazon job for this,” Brooklyn says on a sigh.
“Come here, mija.” I hold out my hand to her. She just stares at it. I bridge the distance between us and take her hand in mine. “I know this is hard. It’s the middle of winter, Mama just left, and we’re in this brand-new town where we don’t know anyone, but…” I pull her a little closer. “You have me. Your mom. And we’re going to make the best of it; that’s what we Perez women do. And you know what? In the end, it will be amazing.”
“If you say so.” She hugs me back a little, which is the most I can expect from my fifteen-year-old under the circumstances.
“Once the store is open, we’ll meet lots of people.” Which is why I want to get it ready for opening as quickly as possible. I had hoped to be able to open for business in a few days, but with how things are looking right now, it might actually take a couple of weeks.
“God knows what they’ll be like.” Brooklyn grumbles it more than she says it.
Her hand is still in mine as I lead her to the window. “Look at it,” I say. “Isn’t it picture-perfect?”
Brooklyn just shrugs. Maybe I did ask too much of her. Maybe I should have stuck it out in Queens, and everything it came to stand for, until she finished high school.
I look out the window, taking in Donovan Grove’s Main Street. There’s the diner across the street, where we will go for lunch later, after we’ve unpacked a few more boxes. There’s the hardware store and the mini-mart and the bakery, all filled with people we’ve yet to meet. A happy mother will always make for a happier child, I repeat in my head.
A man and a woman walk past the window and briefly stop. The woman gives a quick wave, then they’re back on their way through the snow that keeps on falling. Bernard, who owns the candy store next door, was quick to tell me that not clearing the sidewalk in front of your dwelling could result in grumbling neighbors, of which, I got the impression he surely would be one if I didn’t get my shovel out quickly. So I’ve tasked Brooklyn with keeping the sidewalk as clear as possible. If this snow keeps up, she’ll have to go out again soon.
“Do you want to call Marsha and Juan?” I ask, referring to our friends back in Queens, the ones that were hardest to leave behind.
Brooklyn’s body releases some tension. “That’s okay, Mom,” she says. “We have shit to get done.” She wriggles her hand loose from my grasp and opens a box. She sighs the sort of sigh only a teenager can get away with. “Where do you want these?” She holds up a pack of bright-red Valentine’s Day cards.
“We need to put the rack together first. I’m not sure it’s a job for two women on their own.” I hold my smile.
“Oh yes, it is. There’s not a job in this place the two of us can’t get done.” The sullenness in her voice has been replaced by feistiness. “Where is it?”
I point at a box close to the door. As my gaze sweeps around the store, I am briefly reminded of what Brooklyn called ‘my cushy Amazon job’. It might have paid well, but it was far from cushy or comfortable. This store might be a mess, but as Brooklyn just said, it’s nothing we can’t handle. It will take some elbow grease and a lot of energy, but this is the beginning of our new life together, in a brand-new town—Donovan Grove, where there happened to be a bookstore for sale just as I started looking for one. Just as I started to gently contemplate a different life for us. So here we are.
Brooklyn’s tearing open the box. “Just because I’m putting together this rack,” she says, “doesn’t mean I approve of you selling this sappy, capitalist crap.”
“We give people what they want,” I counter. “So we can make a living.”
“This is not what people want, Mom. Maybe when you were young they did, but Valentine’s Day is simply not woke.”
“I bet you that no one of my age will buy one of those cards.”
“Just retired people. And men who have something to make up for with their wives,” she says.
“So young, yet so cynical.” I flatten the cardboard box she just tore open.
“I guess that’s what happens when your other mother decides to no longer give a f—” She stops herself before I can chastise her for swearing. “To not care about you any longer.”
“Eve does care, baby. She loves you.” I have to say these things, even though I could have strangled Eve when she told us that she was moving abroad months earlier than planned. The moving abroad alone was enough of a punch in the gut for Brooklyn, but making her change her plans—making her move out here with me much earlier than anticipated—was like pulling the rug from underneath her feet entirely.
Brooklyn rolls her eyes. “Let’s not do this again. If she really cared, she wouldn’t be where she is right now.”
“I know, baby. I know.” I look at the rack we’re trying to assemble, hoping to distract her.
“It’s just for a year,” Eve said, when she first told us she was moving to Shanghai.
“A year is still twelve months of your daughter’s life that you’ll miss,” I said.
Because Eve was going to be away for a year, we agreed that Brooklyn would stay with her in the city, while I got settled in Donovan Grove. That way, Brooklyn could make the move in the summer and she’d get to spend some extra quality time with her other parent. Now, she’s had to move out here with hardly any notice, while her other mother lives the high life in Asia. It’s hardly fair on Brooklyn, but it’s how it is.
“I can do this on my own.” Brooklyn squats down.
“But you don’t have to.” I crouch down next to her and give her a hand.
<<End of preview>>
Two Hearts Alone (Two Hearts Trilogy – Book One) will be available on Thursday 13 February 2020 from all retailers.