Exclusive Excerpt from A Day in the Life of Emma...
I was having a perfectly lovely dream – one that included the Oscars, chocolate cake, a swimming pool, and Kieran Doyle (who was the quarterback on the football team at my school, and my, well, life-long crush), in no particular order – when a sudden and very loud trumpet blasted it all into oblivion.
My eyes snapped open and for a long moment I simply stared up at the dark gray shadows that moved over my ceiling. Then I heaved a greatly harassed sigh and pushed myself up into a sitting position.
“Sometimes, I really hate your dad,” I said as I watched my stepsister, Zara, sit up on her bed across the room.
She snorted out a laugh and deftly pulled her long black braids into a quick, messy bun on the top of her head that somehow still managed to look stylish. “You were dreaming about Kieran again, weren’t you?” she asked, reaching out to turn her bedside lamp on.
When I scowled she chuckled and climbed off her bed. “Cake or ice cream this time?”
I rolled my gray eyes and flopped back down. “Cake. Chocolate cake, to be precise, with ganache and chocolate covered strawberries.” I listened to her putter around our bedroom and turned my head to see she was already picking out her outfit for the day. Sometimes, I envied people who woke up perky. This was not one of those times. “There may or may not have been a swimming pool, and a giant gold Oscar statue, involved.” Since my life’s goals were to a. date and then eventually marry Kieran in a huge, elaborate fairytale princess wedding (because, really, what girl doesn’t secretly dream of that?), after which we would raise teacup Chihuahuas on our organic avocado farm (if he preferred dachshunds, I was perfectly amenable to that, too), and b. becoming an award winning screenwriter and movie director, none of this seemed particularly out of place to me. The chocolate cake with the chocolate covered strawberries had just been a nice little perk, as had the swimming pool.
“Oh, jeez.” She lowered the blouse in her hands – one I was fairly certain was mine, though I’d never actually worn it before – and turned to look at me. “You have the weirdest and most vivid dreams of anyone I know.”
I shrugged – she wasn’t wrong – and reached out to grab my phone to check the time, just as there was a knock on the door.
“Go away!” I shouted, thinking it was my stepdad. “I’ve decided I no longer love you!”
“He said you’d say that,” mine and Zara’s six-year-old sister, Maddie, said as she opened the door and peeked into the room. She grinned brightly, a small gap showing where she’d recently lost a tooth. “He also said that as long as you’re up and ready to go in fifteen minutes, he’d buy back your affections with coffee and pastries on the way to the campground.”
I opened my mouth, then closed it again as I considered this information. “Tell him I’ll be down in twenty, and I still expect at least one hit of coffee before I walk out the front door,” I finally said.
She rolled her pretty dark eyes and glanced at Zara. “Mom said to remind you that we’re going camping, not to the mall, and for you to dress appropriately,” she told her, then she ducked out and shut the door.
“This is totally appropriate. Right?” Zara turned to show me her selection of a slinky white silk tank top, and a pair of designer linen shorts.
“Ah,” I hummed as I sat up and pulled my long, tangled brown hair into a messy bun that was, well, messy. “Somehow, I don’t think silk and linen are exactly considered traditional camping attire. And before you can ask, no, I don’t think espadrilles are exactly code for camping, either.” When she pouted I rolled off my bed and went to our closet to drag my old duffle out – which I’d already packed for the week to come – then reached for the blue cotton t-shirt and khaki shorts I’d chosen to pair it with last night. “I have plenty in my dresser,” I pointed out as I headed for the door.
She sighed dramatically – that was Zara, all drama and flare and high fashion – and I chuckled as I stepped out of our room.
“Mornin, Emmy!” our baby brother, Tyson, shouted out as he raced, stark naked, out of his bedroom.
“Whoa! We’ve got a streaker!” I called out in the general direction of our parents’ bedroom. “Naked baby making a run for it!”
“Big boy!” Ty shouted. It would have sounded indignant, except for the fit of giggles that escaped him as our mom, well-practiced at this point, popped out of her bedroom and caught him quickly, before he could make a run for the stairs.
“Big boys don’t run around the house, or the preschool, naked,” she said – I had a feeling there was a story behind the last part of that comment, which I hadn’t heard yet – and she laughed, her whole face lightening beautifully, as she tickled him and he giggled his sweet little laugh.
“Baby boy,” he proclaimed, throwing his chubby little arms up as though in triumph, and had us both chuckling.
“Big boy,” she countered, then she looked over to me. “Well, at least you’re awake,” she said after she studied me for a moment.
“Hey, I’d be almost ready to go if Mr. Man there hadn’t made a run for it.” I reached up and tweaked his cute little nose as I passed by them on my way to the bathroom. “Tell your husband, who shall remain nameless until coffee is flowing in my veins again, that I wouldn’t be disappointed at all if he leaves without me, so please do feel free to do so.”
“You were having a Kieran dream and his alarm woke you up,” she said, and she smirked when I made a face. “I’ll tell him to add an extra scoop to the coffee maker. Be ready in ten.”
“Fifteen,” I called back as she turned to go back into her room, Ty perched on her hip. “It was a Kieran dream,” I reminded her when she looked over her shoulder to counter back with a firm ten. “I need at least five minutes to properly mourn before you and he who shall not be named,” I added, pointing at my stepdad when he stepped out around her into the hall, “drag me into deliverance country for the next seven days.” I narrowed my eyes at Joe when he lifted his dark eyebrows. “You know what you did.”
He smirked and pressed a kiss to the top of my mom’s head, ruffled Ty’s crazy morning afro, then headed for the stairs. “Good morning, Emma.”
“It was, while Kieran was feeding me cake!” I shouted after him. “But you stole the moment away with your evil little trumpet sounding machine!” I rolled my eyes when I heard him chuckle as he disappeared down the stairs. “Your taste in men could be better,” I told my mom, and I shook my head as I closed the bathroom door between us, and I heard her laugh.
The truth was, her husband, Joe, was actually the best of the best, and I adored him, and always have. Mine and my mom’s lives only got better the day they got married, and Zara, who had been my best friend since we were still in diapers, became my sister. Seven years later, our family was made even more complete with the additions of Maddie and Tyson.
While a lot of my friends jokingly called us the perfect example of a modern blended family, we simply thought of ourselves as just a regular family. Sure there were times when we occasionally got on each other’s nerves, and disagreements, even arguments, were inevitable. But at the end of the day, we were always there for each other.
That didn’t mean, however, that I was anymore of a morning person just because Joe was. Not that I had anything against mornings, exactly. I just had issue with how early they came in the day.
But Joe, for some reason, had been trying to coax me into being a sunny, perky a.m.-er for the past seven years. This didn’t take for the first four years, and had caused quite a few rough mornings during that time period, but by year five he’d finally gotten a clue and had begun bribing me with caffeinated beverages.
It didn’t make me like the a.m. any better, but at least it helped make it more tolerable.
Ready for the day, I stepped out into the hall, and shook my head, smirking when I saw Zara applying lip gloss, using her reflection in the glass of a picture on the wall. “You haven’t even brushed your teeth yet,” I pointed out.
She shrugged one of her dark, slender shoulders, and slipped the tube of gloss into one of the pockets of her shorts. “I like to be presentable for every situation,” she reminded me. She dropped her gaze to the simple red cotton tank top she wore, and the black jean shorts she’d paired it with, and sighed. “You work with what you’ve got.”
Since she still managed to look like a runway model with her mile-long legs in simple cotton and denim, I simply grunted. “Good thing you’ve got a lot to work with,” I replied, and I tried not to take it too personally, seeing as the clothes she was bemoaning having to wear were in fact mine.
Where Zara was tall and slender with curves in all the right places, I was more average – really, I was bordering on short – and still decidedly less curvy, in all ways.
I barely filled out my B-cup sports bra.
But I digress.
“See you downstairs,” I called out as she went into the bathroom, and I went back to our bedroom.
My bed was already made – bless Zara, she’d even fluffed my pillows for me – so I dumped my pajamas into the hamper, grabbed my duffle, my backpack, and my phone, and headed downstairs.
When I stepped into the kitchen Joe silently held my favorite mug out to me, and I silently took it from him on my way over to the mudroom, where my beat up sneakers were sitting in a pile of everyone else’s.
I held a finger up when I heard Joe behind me, and set my bags down on the floor. I kept my finger held up between us as I turned to face him, and continued to watch him as I drank deeply from my mug.
Patient as ever, Joe simply waited, looking unconcerned.
Once that first jolt of caffeine was finally coursing through my system, I lowered my hand and mug and took a deep breath. “Okay, you’re officially my favorite person again,” I said.
He grinned and leaned against the doorframe. “We’re still going camping.”
“Oh, and just like that you’re back to he who shall not be named,” I muttered, taking another sip.
He chuckled and drank deeply from his mug. “I’m not worried. Your affections are easily bought. And when we reach Millford and I buy you a cinnamon roll from the Sweet Carolina, I will forever hold the title of favorite. You just wait.”
“If you agree to going to the beach and a hotel of, say, four stars, I’ll get you an engraved Best Dad Ever plaque that you can show off to all your friends,” I told him, reaching for my sneakers.
He hummed, as though contemplating this as he took another drink from his mug. “I’ll admit, it’s a tempting offer. But from what I’ve been told about the pastries from Sweet Carolina, I’m still pretty confident about the cinnamon roll winning you over, so I’ll have to say no. Besides, there will still be a very large body of water. It just won’t have any sharks lurking in the depths of it.”
“Okay, well, that is a plus, yes,” I muttered, as that was kind of hard logic to disagree with. No sharks, as a general rule, was always a check mark in the plus column. “Fine. We’ll go to your middle-of-the-twigs-of-the-sticks-of-nowhere mountain town. But it had better be the biggest, most epic cinnamon roll in the history of mankind. And accompanied by an even bigger cup of coffee.”
“Done. Now come on, Squeaker. We’ve got to get on the move if we want to beat traffic,” he said as he turned into the kitchen.
I grimaced over the nickname – one I’d earned when I was even younger than Ty, since even back then I hadn’t been keen on communication first thing in the morning, and had only responded to people in grunts and squeaks. Or so the story goes. I, myself, was iffy on those exact details, though my mom and everyone else delighted in relaying them whenever I met someone new. “Hence the ungodly hour?” I asked as I followed after him.
“Emma, you do realize that five o’clock in the morning is generally considered a perfectly reasonable hour to start one’s day to a good portion of the human population, right?” he asked as he began to fill one of the coolers with ice.
“I want to know where you get your statistics,” I said, and with my sneakers on my feet, I began to help him.
“It’s called I-95 during rush hour,” he replied easily, loading his cooler up with provisions now.
“As I am a prime example, just because those poor souls are on the highway at that hour commuting to work doesn’t mean they’re happy about it, or find the hour acceptable. I want hardcore data and evidence to back up these baseless claims of yours, Detective,” I said as I hauled a pack of soda up onto the counter to add some cans to my much smaller cooler, which my mom would keep up front with her for the drive.
“Oh, good. She’s talking to you again,” my mom said as she stepped into the kitchen. She grinned and pushed herself up on her toes to press a kiss to Joe’s cheek, then began to help as well. “Zara’s getting Maddie and Ty settled into the truck. All that’s left is Em’s bags, the coolers, and us.”
“Five minutes,” Joe told her, and he nodded to me. “Bags.”
I nodded back at him and left them to finish with the coolers, and went to get my things, then I headed for the front of the house.