Feel free to join the fun taking place all this week as I host "Bookish Road Trip on Facebook.
Today, I take readers on a tour of San Francisco's historic Palace of Fine Arts, in the city's Marina District. In fact, one of the book's main characters right across from the park.
By reading this excerpt, you can correctly answer this question for a chance to win a digital copy of the Totlandia 4-Book Bundle:
Who is the character that lives in the house across from the Palace of Fine Arts?
Email your correct answer to MailFromJosie@gmail.com. The drawing will take place later today, at 3pm PT / 6pm ET.
Wednesday, 19 September
So, this is how the one percent lives, Jade thought, as she eavesdropped on two Threesies mothers. They nod. They smile. They talk about the weather.
On this balmy September in San Francisco, it was the safest subject possible, especially for the Onesies moms who were competing against each other.
Thus far, what they had to do was simple: attend the meet-ups and make as many friends as possible. Within the group, the task of providing healthy snacks was being rotated. Jade’s turn was on Friday, and her stomach was already in knots over it.
Brady had laughed when he saw her proposed list. “Fruit Roll-Ups? Are you serious?”
“What’s wrong with that? It’s made from real fruit, right? I mean, how much shredded carrots and celery mush can those poor kids eat?”
“Jade, doll, it’s loaded with sugar. Not to mention all those preservatives!”
“I lived on this stuff growing up,” she said. “It didn’t hurt me any.”
He shook his head as he left the room.
She wondered if he’d heard her crying.
Jade’s first meet-up had taken place last Wednesday. Already it seemed like a thousand years ago.
She’d done exactly what Brady had directed her to do: she had smiled benignly, and only spoke if someone asked her a question. Unfortunately, most of the questions were about Oliver. They’d asked about the little things a mother should know about her child, but Jade hadn’t been around to observe Oliver herself. Each time she made up an answer, her cheeks got hot as she worried if they were on to the fact that she was a fraud.
Worse, a deadbeat mom.
Before her second meeting that Friday, Brady had given her a cheat sheet. She was proud of the fact that she hadn’t needed to rely on it, because she had spent Wednesday night and all day Thursday scrutinizing everything she could about her son—how well he walked, the words he could say, what he liked to eat, the sound of his laugh, the way he pursed his lips as he fell asleep.
The way he bounced whenever Brady came into view.
She knew the feeling.
Today, even in Alta Plaza Park, the wind had taken the day off, allowing the sun to toast the air. She smiled and waved at Lorna, who was strolling Dante toward her and Oliver. Together the women made their way to the bench where the other Onesies had congregated. Jade truly liked Lorna, and not just because Brady insisted she be nice to the Connaughts. Lorna was nice to everyone, even the catty Onesies like Chakra and Kelly.
She could tell Lorna liked to talk to her, too. Not that Kelly gave them much chance to do so. She seemed to want to snuggle up close to Lorna, to talk about Bettina. Some of the questions she asked were obnoxious: Were they close? Did they hang together a lot? Did Matt get along with Bettina’s husband, Art?
What a nosy bee-hatch!
Lorna certainly seemed to be on to her little game, because she was good at changing the subject.
Another reason she liked Lorna was because she answered Jade’s timid questions about the club and its members honestly, without any bullshit.
Like now. As the two women strolled past the picnic table where the Foursies moms had taken over, Jade overheard one mother say to another, “Anton started solids at six months, and was potty-trained at eight months. It’s a shame your little Seth was so much slower to develop. Maybe that’s why, now that he’s four, he’s not quite grasping the concept of Pottermore. Anton is a Ravenclaw. I am so proud of him.”
Jade would have found the woman’s boast more believable if the supposedly smarter of the four-year-olds in question hadn’t been dipping his tongue into a handful of sand while his mother was bragging about him. Despite this, both boys seemed happy and healthy as they played.
“My goodness, does it really matter if something happens for your kid a month or two earlier than the next kid?” Jade asked Lorna. “They all get around to the same milestones eventually, right?”
For some strange reason, that question wiped the smile completely off Lorna’s face. “If you’re a mom, every milestone makes you feel as if you’ve done at least one thing right. And if you’re an insecure mom, there will always be something to boast about. So I’m guilty as charged.” She shrugged. “But you’re right. We all get to the same place eventually.”
If only Lorna sounded as if she believed that herself.
* * *
Ally and Jillian had already staked out a metal bench, which had been warmed by the sun. Not just warm, but hot. Jade found that out the hard way when she felt the burn on the back of her thighs. She regretted having worn her short shorts for just that reason.
Well, that and because the women who made up the PHM&T applications committee were doing a piss poor job at pretending not to stare at her.
When Bettina got up to walk over, Jade’s heart skipped a beat. Brady had warned her that the shorts made her look slutty. If she got kicked out after just three meetings—even before the vote-off—he’d be so angry with her.
All eyes followed Bettina as she walked over to their bench. The conversation between Ally and Jillian about the girls and their favorite dolls stopped mid-sentence.
Bettina nodded to all of them, but she only had eyes for Jade. “Do you have a moment?” Bettina’s tone was very serious.
Jade nodded warily and vowed to burn the shorts the very minute she got home. Worse yet, Bettina was going to ream her out in front of the others.
“The admissions committee has noted that you have excellent taste! Would you like to accompany me in lining up the Halloween Contest prizes from some of our more generous local merchants?”
“Me? Go…with you?” Jade couldn’t believe her ears. She couldn’t wait to tell Brady. He’d be ecstatic!
“It shouldn’t be too obtrusive on your overall schedule. We only need eleven prizes: five boy prizes, one for each age group; and then five girl prizes, same criteria. Also, we’ll need a Grand Prize. We could cover Chestnut Street in an hour on one day and Union Street another. On a third day, we’ll hit the Fillmore district. Needless to say, your participation will count in your overall score. So, what do you say?”
“Of course! Any day you want!”
“Super. Why don’t we meet at the Grove Cafe at eleven tomorrow morning? Feel free to bring Oliver along. Having the little ones with us always makes a great impression on the merchants. And he is such a handsome little guy!”
Jade nearly leaped off the bench to give Bettina a hug, then remembered her shorts and thought better of it.
The other Onesie moms tried to hide their disappointment, but it was all too clear what they were thinking: Was Bettina already playing favorites?
Jade certainly hoped so.
She looked down at her little son. He had already wormed his way out of his sweater and was deeply involved in some sandbox antics, taking a cup filled with sand and tossing it over one of his toy cars until it was completely buried. This process had Addison and Amelia squealing. Even that constant whiner, Quest, and Kelly’s little bully, Wills, were both following him. By the time Ally’s little girl, Zoe, joined in, it looked like a miniature conga line.
One of the twins (was it Amelia, or Addison? she could never tell them apart) grabbed Oliver’s sweater, which had been tossed to one side, and threw it outside the sand lot. Jade laughed off Ally’s apologies and ran after it. When she reached down for it, she noticed something odd: the collar held a tiny metal clasp, which was blinking green.
Why, that son of a bitch.
Jade scanned the streets surrounding the park. Yes, there he was, on the Steiner side.
If Brady wants to play I Spy, he should ditch the red Ferrari, she thought.
She almost smiled and waved but thought better of it. She’d wait for the right time, and the right place, to make him pay for his distrust.
She walked back toward the sandlot where Oliver was holding court with his newfound friends. If only he and Dante were doing a better job at bonding. Because she felt sorry that the little Connaught boy was being so shy, Jade handed another cup to Dante, but he just let it drop to the sand.
Then he stared at it as it lay there in front of him.
“He’s just tired,” Lorna smiled over at Jade. “We had a late night.”
Jade nodded. Still, she couldn’t help but think, How is this kid going to make it through the competition? Even though he’s Bettina’s nephew, there just ain’t no way…
* * *
Brady was sitting in the living room, waiting for Jade when she got home. The minute Oliver went down for his nap, Brady grilled her on every little detail. Which kids played with Oliver? If a kid didn’t play with him, why not? What did the moms talk about? Had she said anything to upset anyone? Had Bettina singled her out for anything?
“Bettina invited me to go with her to find prizes for the winners of the Halloween parade. Isn’t that great?”
“Wow, way to go.” He gave her a thumbs up.
Her smile turned to stone. “Doesn’t that deserve a kiss?”
He nodded slowly. “Yeah… I guess.”
“You act as if I’ve got cooties or something! You know what, forget about it. Besides, I told her I didn’t have time for that kind of stuff, since I’m only getting paid for the three mornings—”
He shrugged. “No, you didn’t.”
“Oh yeah? How do you know what I did or didn’t do?”
“Because…I mean, I know you wouldn’t have been that rude.”
“You’re right. I’m not rude. At least not as rude as you, who bugs his own son!” She glared at him. “Admit it, Brady. You already know everything that goes on at the meet-ups.”
“What do you mean?” He’d tried to sound so innocent, but Jade had picked up on a habit of his—he blinked when he lied—and he was blinking now.
“I found the bug you planted on Ollie. In here.” She tossed the jacket at him. “And I saw you in your car, watching us. What are you afraid of? That I might do a striptease in the middle of the park?”
“No! Nothing like that. It’s just that—well, through this initiation period, we have to be super good.”
“I’m good all the time,” she said with a naughty purr.
“That’s not what I meant. The point I’m trying to make is—”
She had shut him up with a kiss.
Someday he’d kiss her first. She was sure of it.
Maybe on that same day he’d take the bug off Ollie’s jacket.
(c) 2014 Josie Brown. All Rights Reserved.