Chapter One

“You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.”

-Albert Einstein

Lauren pulled into the driveway, put her car in park, and picked up the white throw pillow she’d bought, with the navy-blue hand-stitching, and reread the quote. Yep, that Albert Einstein sure was smart, because his words pretty much summed up her relationship with her grandmother. The grandmother whose house she’d just arrived at. The grandmother she was staying with for the next couple months. The grandmother with the eagle eye, who not only had a real talent for finding faults but also pointing them out.


As Lauren did with all areas of her life, she’d been documenting this road trip from her home in Arlington, Virginia, on social media. She turned off the car now and opened Instagram. She’d posted a story of the pillow she’d bought for Grams at a quaint general store she’d stopped at earlier. Lauren smiled, seeing her recent story was already getting quite a few views. One direct message asked the question.

Why are you in Maine?

She answered this particular follower with the truth. Or, at least, the most general, simplistic version of the truth.

I’m from Maine. Visiting family.

True enough, she thought. She’d been born in a very small beach town on the Maine coast called Seaside Cove, not far from Kennebunkport.

Seaside Cove, population twenty.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t that tiny, but she’d definitely felt that way growing up. Everyone knew everyone else. If she got her hair cut after school, the employees at the grocery store would know all about it by dinnertime.

Yeah, it was that kind of town.

Growing up in Seaside Cove wasn’t all bad, though. It was beautiful, actually. The fall foliage was to die for. Summers were full of long days and beach parties. Lauren was convinced you couldn’t find better seafood anywhere. The houses that were lucky enough to line the coast had an absolutely magnificent view of the ocean that extended out for an eternity.

Her grandmother’s house was one of those. Lauren stretched and twisted as she got out of the car. Then she simply stared at the gorgeous house in front of her as she took in the familiar and comforting sounds and smells. The birds, the waves crashing on the beach, the salty sea air mixing with the sweet scent of Grams’s countless hydrangea bushes.

“You gonna stand there all day gawking or come in?” a rough, scratchy voice called from the front door.

Lauren rolled her eyes even as she grinned. She grabbed her purse, her phone, and the present for Grams, and made her way to the house. She’d get the rest of her stuff later.

Halfway to the porch, she stopped, a perfect picture presenting itself. She crouched as she aimed her phone and snapped a beautiful shot of a row of white daisies fluttering in the breeze as the ocean glistened in the distance.

“What the hell are you doing?” Grams asked from the porch, hands firmly placed on her hips.

“Taking a pic for social,” Lauren replied simply.

“Don’t put me online,” Grams yelled. “I don’t want some hacker to get my address off that picture. I know about cybersecurity.”

Sure, she did. Lauren shoved her phone into the back pocket of her jeans and continued toward the house, bounding up the three steps onto the wraparound porch. She was met by Grams’s assessing stare that always lasted three seconds too long, or just long enough to make you feel awkward.

Even though they hadn’t seen each other in person in over two years, Lauren knew there would be no hugs. That wasn’t their relationship.

Grams huffed and walked into the house. Lauren followed, her gaze darting into every room, down every hallway, soaking in the familiar and noting any new touches. The same Tiffany lamps on the piano in the front parlor. A new runner in the hallway. The china cabinet displaying the dishes that had belonged to Grams’s mother in the dining room.

Grams was standing at the kitchen sink, a dish towel slung over her shoulder and a discerning look on her face. Rose Catherine Josephs wasn’t the lovey-dovey-hugging type of grandma who kissed boo-boos and crocheted afghans. Neither did she offer words of affection or wise anecdotes. Although she did offer plenty of words, which she probably thought were wise. But to Lauren, they were usually direct, no-nonsense, and occasionally biting.

Grams looked at her watch. “Surprised you’re here already.”

“Why?” Lauren put her purse on the table. “I texted you from the last rest stop with my ETA.”

“Figured you would stop at the local bar on Main Street before you came here.”

Here we go. One freaking time in college, she’d stopped to have lunch with a girlfriend before coming home, and Grams never forgot it.

She could reply with something like, Oh Grams, you know I wanted to see you first. But what fun would that be? Instead, she said, “I was afraid the bar would be closed on a Sunday.”

Grams’s eyes narrowed. “Your hair’s too short.”

“Nice to see you, too,” she replied drily.

“Why’d you cut it? If I had pretty, long hair like you, I would have never chopped it.”

Lauren ran a hand through her dark brown hair. It wasn’t like she’d given herself a buzz cut. She was sporting a trendy bob, her natural curls cut into layers, so they fell in perfect waves just above her shoulders. “Because I like to experiment.”

“I liked the long hair.” Grams turned to the sink, ran the towel around the edge, and then neatly hung it back up.

“So you said.” Taking a long, fortifying breath, Lauren presented the bag she’d picked up at the gift shop. “For you, Grams. Happy Mother’s Day!”

She waited while Grams removed the pillow from the bag and undid the tissue paper Lauren had asked the clerk to wrap it in.

“What the hell am I supposed to do with this?”

Completely unoffended, Lauren jumped to sit up on the counter. Grams snapped her fingers, and Lauren immediately got down. Not even two minutes in her presence and she already felt like a scolded child.

Leaning back against the granite counter, she said, “Oh, I don’t know, Grams, maybe you could put it on the couch or in your bedroom. Maybe you could just say, ‘Thank you, Lauren, favorite granddaughter, for thinking of me on Mother’s Day.’”

“I’m not your mother,” she said, turning her back and walking toward the living room.

“You’re as good as,” Lauren said under her breath, secretly hoping Grams heard it.

She followed her grandmother into the living room, then went to the window and looked out at the garden.

“And you’re not my favorite granddaughter, either.”

Lauren snorted. “Keep telling yourself that. You know you love me the most. Hydrangea look amazing this year.”

“Yes, they do.”

Turning from the window, Lauren faced Grams and studied her. “If I’m not your fav, who is? Brooke is too self-absorbed, and Gabby is too flighty.”

“And you’re too presuming,” she said with finality. Then, “How is she?”

Lauren didn’t have to ask who she was. They were all concerned about Gabby. Her youngest sister was the reason for Lauren putting her own life on hold and staying in Maine for a couple months.

“You should know,” Lauren said. “I know you talk to Gabby all the time.”

Grams leveled a look at her. “I’m her grandmother. You’re her sister. She tells you things that she keeps from me.”

Gabby was an amazing actress. She’d put in her time at local playhouses, theater in the park, basically anywhere that had a stage and a script. When she’d moved to New York City, she’d auditioned her way to roles in the chorus, understudies, bit parts, and secondary characters. She danced, she sang, she acted her little heart out.

Finally, after all those years, Gabby did it. She won a coveted starring role in a new musical that everyone was talking about. But then a worldwide pandemic swept in, and Gabby lost her job. Her dream.

Adding insult to injury, one of her roommates had been caught trying to sell antibacterial wipes on eBay for exorbitant prices and had to pay a huge fine. Not to worry, he’d been able to pay the fine…by stealing from Gabby and their other roommates.

Now, her sister was out of work, out of money, and out of an apartment after the landlord evicted her.

Even though Lauren worried about her sister, she wasn’t completely on board with her decision to leave everything she’d built in New York and return to Maine. Lauren was a firm believer in rising to the challenge. She was sure that if Gabby just took some time and came up with a plan she would be able to fix anything that had happened to her in Manhattan.

Lauren shrugged. “I still think she should stay in New York. Figure a way out of her mess.”

Grams eyed her. “And I think you’re wrong. Gabby needs her family right now.”

Lauren rolled her eyes. “She’s going to be fine.”

“Gabby is resilient. Still, everyone needs help from time to time.”

As the youngest, Gabby had often been spoiled by all of them. Lauren was afraid Grams was following in that tradition now, allowing Gabby to move back home. Or, maybe Grams needed someone, too.

Lauren worried her lip. Another reason she came back to Seaside Cove. Two birds, one stone, she would make sure both Grams and Gabby were okay.

Grams was stubborn, outspoken, strong-willed, and completely capable of taking care of herself. She’d been running a business that she’d started way back in the day, Rose’s Café, a small café and coffeehouse. Naturally, it had closed during the worst waves of the pandemic. Grams claimed she was great, health-wise and financially. But Lauren still wanted to see with her own eyes that everything was okay.

“She’ll be just fine after a little rest,” Grams said with authority.

Lauren thought so, too. But she couldn’t just agree with Grams. If she did, her grandmother would assume Lauren was up to something and make her life hell trying to figure out what it was.

“You’re babying her,” Lauren said. “Again.” Grams was also inserting her nose into a situation that didn’t concern her. Not the first time.

Grams quirked an eyebrow. “She’s broke. That stupid roommate of hers really screwed her over.”

“If only she’d listened to me and asked for multiple references,” Lauren said. “That’s what responsible people do when they’re searching for roommates. Not to mention giving that shady roommate access to the rent, utilities, and cable money. Who does that! Now, she’s in debt.”

Lauren had already created a very detailed plan to help Gabby get her finances under control. She couldn’t wait to show it to her.

“A lot of the country is in debt. We’ll pull through it. And you should have picked her up on your way up here.”

Lauren deflated. “I tried, Grams. You know I tried.” She’d practically begged and pleaded with Gabby. But her sister definitely had this whole independent streak that was as big as…well, as Lauren’s own independent streak.

She fell into the cushions of one of the soft, comfy couches. “So, what’s for dinner?”

“I don’t know. What are you making?” Grams replied, sitting in her usual spot, a gray wingback chair. “It’s Mother’s Day. I’m not cooking.”

“Seriously? There’s nothing to eat? I’ve been driving for hours.” Uncomfortable, she shifted, then remembered her phone. She stood and removed it from her back pocket before sitting again.

“Those jeans tight enough?” Grams asked wryly.

“Well, Grams, you know what they say. The tighter the jeans, the closer to God.”

Grams’s rebuttal came in the form of a word that would have seen Lauren with a bar of soap in her mouth.

To the casual observer, it might seem like Grams was the typical grumpy older member of society. And those observers would be right. But she was also more than that. Grams had raised Lauren and her two sisters after their mother died.

Every year, Grams discounted Mother’s Day. She made it seem like it wasn’t that big of a deal. Only, it was to Lauren. It was a day to thank the person who had stepped into the mother role for her. The person who had kept her fed and clothed. The person who liked to bitch about how tight her jeans were.

“These jeans are not that fitted.” They were a dark-wash skinny jean. They were snug but nothing extreme.

“Are you wearing underwear?”

“Grams!” She grimaced. “Yes, I’m wearing underwear.”

“Don’t know how in those pants. They’re so tight you would think I’d see your panty line.” Grams peered at her. “Unless you’re wearing a thong. Are you wearing a thong?”

Lauren felt her face heating up and knew her ears were turning red. “We are not discussing my underwear.”

“You know what I’ve always told you about thongs.” Grams pointed at her. “What have I always told you?”

She covered her face with her hands. “I can’t.”

“Lauren Rose.” Grams’s voice had that stern, don’t-mess-with-me tone to it.

Lauren looked up. “Wearing a thong gives you a UTI,” she dutifully recited. “Which, by the way, isn’t even true.”

“How would you know? Did you become a doctor lately?” Grams crossed her arms.

“You’re not a doctor, either.” She didn’t know what she felt more uncomfortable about. The fact that her grandmother was talking to her about thongs or that for years she’d always wondered if the whole thong-UTI thing was true.

“I mean, if you want to basically wear dental floss up the crack of your butt—”

“How about we talk about something else?” Lauren racked her brain. Coronavirus, a root canal—literally anything would be better than talking thongs with Grams. “Gabby said she’s going to work in the café with you.”

Grams nodded. “What about you? You have a job yet?”

Lauren ground her teeth. “I’ve never not had a job.” In fact, she’d been working since she was a little girl.

She used to work in Grams’s café. After school, weekends. Grams had said it was her job and she had to learn responsibility. It wasn’t until Lauren was older that she realized Grams was watching her while her mom was sick.

“Oh, I forgot. You go on Myspace.”

Sure, if they were living in 2006. “Grams, I’ve explained this a million times. I’m a social media strategist. It is an actual job.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “And guess what? I get paid to do it. I also do online coaching, classes, and talk at conferences.”

She did so much more than that, really. But it was useless to try and explain her job to Grams. She’d been trying for years, and it always ended up with Grams throwing out insults and Lauren getting defensive.

Grams waved a hand in the air. “What the hell does that even mean?”

“I teach people how to optimize social media for their businesses.”

Grams raised one eyebrow. “You go to college, get your degree, and then what? You could have become a teacher.”

“I kinda did.”

Leaning forward, she said, “You speak at conferences, you say?”

“All the time. Well, more so before COVID. But yes, I’ve spoken to crowds of thousands of people.” Right before the pandemic hit, she’d been tapped as the keynote speaker at a prominent marketing conference in San Diego. It had been a highlight of her career for sure. She received the full VIP treatment, hotel suite, limo from the airport, autograph session after her speech. She only wished her grandmother and sisters had seen it. Maybe then they would understand how hard she worked.

Grams sat back in the chair again and shrugged. “Those people probably liked your long, curly hair.”

That’s it. She couldn’t take it anymore.

Lauren glanced at her phone. Wow, twenty minutes. That might be a new record for them.

She stood. “I need to go out.”

“You just got here,” Grams said in a flat voice.

“I’m hungry. I’m going to go get some food. And a very large drink,” she added under her breath.

Of course, Grams had the hearing of an elephant.

“You shouldn’t drink on a Sunday. It’s God’s day.”

Lauren knew without a doubt that if God were in this room, He would have already opened the wine.

She snatched up her phone, grabbed her purse from the kitchen, and headed toward the front door. “I’ll be back in a bit.”

Hopefully Gabby would be there by the time she returned. Lauren and Grams always did better when they had a buffer.

“Don’t go to that bar on Main Street. No good happens there,” Grams called after her.

And with that, Lauren knew exactly where she was heading.