On Thursday, Nov. 4, Addie Woolridge and two other romance authors with Washington roots, Jennifer Bardsley and Brooke Burroughs, will talk about why the Pacific Northwest is an ideal setting for stories about love. The discussion, hosted by the Everett Public Library, will take place virtually as part of the Library’s “Writers Live” series. This excerpt is from Woolridge’s novel, “The Checklist.”
“Dear God. Are they trying to signal someone in outer space?” Setting her book down, Dylan unpretzeled herself from the armchair she’d been installed in. Quietly she opened her bedroom door to survey the rest of the house’s response to the neighbor’s giant motion light.
“I told you so! Now, do what you must.” Bernice’s mocking voice floated up three stories. Dylan marveled at her hearing the bedroom door open over her dad’s experimental Ghanaian drum-circle music.
“I’m on it,” Dylan called back before slinking down the stairs and grabbing her heels from over by the door. “‘Do what you must.’ Who says that?” she mumbled as she reached for the handle, already regretting how quickly she’d caved. What had she said to her mother? Something about her age and independence? Obviously, that wasn’t true.
Cursing herself, she closed her parents’ door and began the slog to the Robinsons’ house. Although modestly painted and well landscaped, the house wasn’t entirely dissimilar to her parents’ home. However, it was scientifically impossible for the family living inside of the house to have less in common with her own. Linda and Patricia Robinson were both tech-industry big shots in their own right. Linda was a patent attorney and the recent recipient of the Latina Bar Association’s Trailblazer Award, a fact she never failed to mention. Patricia was an accomplished programmer and volunteer youth-cheerleading coach who’d even made the cover of American Cheerleader magazine when her all-Black squad had pulled a real-life Bring It On–style competition victory. Both had come through the tech boom when the industry had still employed few women, and they took absolutely no shit from anyone—including Dylan’s parents. Dylan believed her parents objected more to the Robinson women’s love of golf than their jobs. As far as Bernice was concerned, golf was like standing for hours in a glorified front lawn.
The Robinsons had two boys around Dylan’s age, and she had been jealous of the entire family growing up. They’d gone to church and played organized sports, their clothes had always matched, and their mothers had joined the PTA. Dylan’s dad had endured a short stint with the PTA, but the Delacroix didn’t do organized anything. If Dylan had left the house wearing something that matched, it was by accident.
Distracted by the past, Dylan had stopped paying attention to where she was walking until her foot sank into the divot near a storm drain, filling her heel with water. She cursed, her heart thwapping in her chest. Visions of her father toilet papering the neighbors’ house ran unchecked through her head. As did the memory of her mother nailing the police citation to the Robinsons’ door when it had arrived in the mail a week later. Dylan thought this was a tame response where Bernice was concerned, but it led to the Robinsons sending boxes of craft-store glitter to the house. The Robinsons had lost that round, and the joke was on them, because her mother loved glitter. It had appeared in several of her most lauded collages that year, which she’d named for Linda and Patricia Robinson when she’d taken out an ad in the Seattle Times to feature the work.
Ignoring the panic sweat forming on her palms, Dylan knocked on the door, then frowned, looking down at her soaked woolen pant leg. If she didn’t dry-clean those ASAP, they were going to reek.
“One minute.” She had barely registered a man’s voice when the door swung open. “Hello.”
“Uh. Hi.” Dylan’s voice cracked.
Mike was, if possible, better looking than the last time she had seen him. His thick hair had been cut short, highlighting his high cheekbones and the ambient glow of his golden-brown skin. Time had turned him into the sort of made-for-TV manly pretty that seemed unfair for one person to achieve. The vaguely chiseled features and broad-shouldered Latino archetype that beer commercials aspired to.
Aware that she needed to state her purpose, Dylan said the first thing she thought—“You still live here?”—and instantly regretted her decision.
“No, I’m visiting. Do you still live here?” Mike asked with an incredulous laugh. The Robinsons’ younger son filled up what felt like the entire doorframe, with one arm on the handle and the other resting comfortably on the jamb, as if being the J.Crew catalog guy were no big deal.
“I’m staying with my parents while I’m here for a work assignment. How are you?” Dylan smoothed a hand over the hem of her blouse and collected herself.
“Great. I live in Capitol Hill. I’m finishing my PhD at the U-Dub. I basically come here to bum dinner off my parents.” He smiled, and Dylan wished he still had braces. Braces had made him just above-average looking in high school. Now, hazel eyes and straight teeth made him uncomfortable to be around. Or maybe that was the vast amount of water in her shoe.
“I’m sorry. My dad’s drum circle carries all the way over here. I forgot how loud it is.” Dylan gestured around the front door with a nervous laugh.
“We’ve gotten used to it. Do you want to come in?” He stopped leaning on the frame and took a step back to let her in.
“Thank you. I …” Dylan nodded, then paused as her shoe squelched. Panic left the little corner of her brain and seeped all the way to its outer edges as she tried to find a graceful retreat. If she walked in, she would track muddy water into the Robinsons’ otherwise spotless home, further cementing her place in the Worst Neighbor Hall of Fame. “Actually, I really shouldn’t.”
Mike must have sensed her guilt, because his face relaxed into an easy smile. “No worries; I wouldn’t want to be seen entering the home of the enemy either.”
“Oh no. It’s not that.” Dylan rushed to explain herself before she was firmly entrenched in Camp Dreadful Delacroix. “It’s just, my shoe is full of storm drain water, and your house is always spotless, and I don’t want to track it in.” She pointed erratically at her heel, which seemed more absurd now that she was drawing attention to it. What kind of Seattleite wore expensive shoes in this weather? “I promise I’m still significantly less strange than the rest of my family. Shoe thing aside.” She let her hands drop helplessly to her thighs.
To her horror, Mike started laughing, his face cracking into a lopsided grin. “Why don’t you dump your shoe out and come in? My parents are picking up dinner, so we don’t have to tell them about the averted carpet disaster.”
“That is probably the most reasonable option,” she admitted, adopting a woman-as-flamingo pose as she tried to take off one heel while still wearing the other.
Wobbling precariously close to a fall, Dylan threw her hand out to catch the front of the house, but instead she caught the lean muscle of Mike’s bicep as he grabbed her forearm to keep her from toppling over. Appreciating the feel of muscle under the cotton dress shirt he wore, Dylan grabbed her heel and pulled. He likes the gym, she thought, smiling. Those don’t just happen overnight …
Copyright © 2021 by Alexandra Massengale. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.