Being rejected for the sixteenth time in an audition was not a sign of good luck. Emily stepped down from the bus. The old apartment building that had been her home for the past four years loomed in front of her like a reminder of what a failure she was. She pulled her headphones off, stuffing them into her bag.
Her apartment was on the third floor. It wasn’t much to write home about. Only a single room with a connected kitchenette and a bathroom with a stall shower, was the best she could afford. She closed the door behind her and locked it. This part of California wasn’t exactly the safest, a fact that she was reminded of every time she read the news. She had heard stories of those who didn’t take security seriously.
Someone knocked on the door almost immediately. Emily groaned. She threw her bag down by the bed and headed back to the front of the apartment. She still had four days until rent was due, and she was still a couple of dollars short. Surely the landlord wasn’t coming to collect just yet. She peeked through the peephole and then opened the door. Sure enough, her landlord, Matt, was standing there.
He was an older man who reminded her of her father. Light wrinkles pulled at his eyes. He had a gentle smile and a kind laugh on most days. Today, he didn’t look happy or humorous in any way.
“Hey, Matt. You’re here for the rent?” Emily hoped he couldn’t see how much she was hoping he wasn’t.
“No, no. Not the rent. We do need to talk, though. Do you have a minute?”
“Sure.” Emily’s heart dropped. Talking was worse than the rent. “What’s going on?”
“To get straight to the point, I need you to move out of the apartment as soon as possible.”
“What? Why? Did I do something wrong?” Emily’s mind scrambled as she tried to digest what she had just heard.
“No, you didn’t do anything wrong. I’m remodeling the building. If you need some extra time, you can stay here until next month. I am giving everyone the same notice. I want to improve the space here, and that way, next year I can…take on higher-paying tenants. I’m just not making it this way.”
“Oh.” Emily wasn’t sure what she could say. Matt’s apartment had been the cheapest one she had found when she had been looking for one in California. She wasn’t even sure that she could find something else that was affordable and livable at the same time.
“I’m really sorry, Emily. You have been a great tenant, always on time with the rent, and I’ve never heard any complaints about you. I feel bad to be doing this, but the time has come. There is just too much riffraff that rents in this place, and I can’t keep up with the damages.”
“Thanks, Matt. I get it.” Emily tried not to show the dejection she was feeling. “I understand what you want to do.” Emily did understand, but that didn’t mean that she didn’t feel terrible about it. She wanted to stay in her apartment and continue what she was doing. She had been trying to break out as an actress for years, and the low cost of the apartment had allowed her to at least have a chance. Her lack of success had been getting her down lately and had made her question whether she really had a chance at competing with all the people who had been born into their positions.
“Listen, Emily, I can try to give you some references to find some cheap apartments or something. I just hate doing this to you.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Matt was trying to be kind, but he wasn’t making her feel much better.
“Okay then, let me know if you need anything or if I can help in any way. I just need to do this for my business. It’s nothing personal.”
“I know, Matt. Really, I understand.”
“I’ll see you around, then.” Matt took an awkward step back.
Emily didn’t wait for him to finish going down the steps before she closed the door. She plodded back to her bed and sank down on the edge of it. Today couldn’t possibly get any worse, could it?
Emily wiped her hands on her uniform. She had just left work and wasn’t going to have time to go back home and change. She pulled on a light blue sweater over the white shirt she wore as a waitress and hoped the pants would pass as something she would wear any other day. She walked up to the house and checked the number on the slip of paper she had written on. Apparently, this was an apartment complex. It didn’t really look like one, but maybe the apartments were hidden out of sight.
An older woman appeared out of nowhere and walked up to her. She had on a faded jacket and a long skirt that reached down to her ankles. Whatever shirt she was wearing was hidden by her jacket, and just the tip of her collar poked out.
“Good afternoon. You must be Emily.” Her voice cracked.
“That’s right. I’m here to see the apartment.”
“Of course, follow me.” The older woman turned and led her back behind the main house. Behind the house, there were two rows of similar but smaller homes.
“Each of these houses is divided into four apartments. They all have separate entrances and separate electric meters. You will have your own electric bill and water bill. There is a deposit, which is the same as the rent.”
Emily nodded as she tried to keep up with the woman. They rounded the corner and stopped at one of the last buildings.
“Here it is.” The woman pulled out a set of keys and turned one in the lock. She pushed open the door and motioned for Emily to step inside. For a split second, Emily hesitated. She didn’t know this woman or this area. She had no idea if this place was even safe for her. She shrugged away her caution. She needed to find a new apartment before she was kicked out forcibly. Matt was nice enough and would probably try to give her as much time as possible, but even he wouldn’t wait forever.
She stepped inside the apartment. It was small, just like her current apartment. Just by eyeballing the place, she would guess that the room was a bit smaller. The first thing that hit her was the smell. The odor of cigarette smoke was overwhelming. Emily tried not to let it bother her, but it filled her throat and nostrils, making her feel like she would choke.
“I know that the smoke is a bit overpowering, but it will go away soon, or you’ll get used to it. Everyone smokes these days, you know?” The woman held up a lighter. “So, when did you want to move in?”
“How much was the rent again?” Emily had been quoted a number over the phone, but she wanted to make sure that the amount hadn’t changed based on her interest. When the woman told her the price, she had to work to keep her mouth from falling open. The woman had changed the price of the rent, and it was almost double what she paid at her old place. Not to mention, with the amount of the deposit and the smoke smell that was threatening to choke her, Emily was certain that this wasn’t the place for her. A roach ran across the floor, sealing her convictions.
“I…I’ll have to think about it,” she stuttered.
“All right then. You let me know but don’t take too long. These don’t stay open for long. It’s a good deal, you know?” The woman walked out the door and waited for Emily to come back outside before closing the place up. She didn’t say a word as she walked off, leaving Emily staring after her, dumbfounded. She pulled out a crumpled list from her pocket and crossed the place off. She had been looking for days now and had checked out several places. Every single place she went to was either too expensive, two filthy, or a combination of the two. Maybe it was time to do the thing she had dreaded for the past four years and go back home.
Emily turned back to examine the empty room that had been her home for the past four years. She missed her real home and her family, but she hadn’t thought she would be heading back like this. She was letting them all down, but especially her mother.
“I’m sorry, Mom,” she whispered.
For four long years, she had stuck it out in California. No matter what people said or how they discouraged her, she had kept going. She had gone to every single audition. She had spent every extra penny on acting classes that she felt that she needed to improve herself. Nothing she did worked. She wanted to succeed. She had tried to make a go of it, but it just wasn’t going to. Her dream of becoming an actress was over. Four years was a long time. In that time, she had learned what true loneliness was and what true resilience looked like.
Emily set her small suitcase out on the little landing beside the steps before she closed and locked the door for the last time. It was sad to think she wouldn’t be coming back here ever again. She doubted that she would even be able to afford such a place once the renovations were done. Matt had said he wanted higher-paying tenants, so he wasn’t going to be making the rent cheap for people like her anymore. Sadness twisted through her. The affordable living space that Matt had provided her with was a rare thing. She had been lucky to have it for the past four years.
Emily stumbled down the stairs. It was hard pulling the suitcase that contained every one of her belongings down with her. When she got to the bottom, she was surprised to see Matt standing by his car, his arms crossed, and sunglasses pulled down over his eyes.
“Emily, I’ll take you to the bus station.”
“You don’t have to do that,” Emily mumbled. She wasn’t upset with Matt necessarily, but it wasn’t as if they were friends.
“I want to. It’s my fault you’re going home, and I know how hard you’ve worked to be here.” Matt popped the trunk and motioned for her to put her suitcase in.
“All right, thanks.” Emily lifted the heavy suitcase and got it settled in the spacious trunk. At least now she wouldn’t have to spend anything on the taxi. She pulled out an envelope. “Here, this is the rent for the month.” Emily was proud of getting out of the apartment before the next month’s rent was due. Now that she knew she would have to go home, it was easier just to do it right away instead of delaying it more.
Matt took the envelope somberly. He opened it up and started counting the bills. For a moment, Emily thought he was checking to make sure it was all there. Then he did something unexpected. He pulled out half and stuffed it in his pocket and handed her the still half full envelope.
“Here, I know moving can be expensive. I want you to have this.”
“Are you sure?” While Matt had been understanding he had never let her off a single penny of rent before.
“I’m positive. I think it is only fair since I gave you such short notice. Now come on. I don’t want you to be late for the bus.” Matt opened the driver’s door and disappeared inside of his green car. Emily took a deep breath and joined him by climbing into the passenger’s seat.
“So, you excited to be heading back home? You’ve been living here for four years. That is a long time.”
“Yes, it is a while. I’m excited, I suppose.”
“You don’t sound like you are.” Matt had one hand on the steering wheel and the other on the windowsill. He looked like he loved driving. She had never ridden anywhere with him before, but he drove well.
“I am. It’s just been a while, and I don’t know how my dad is going to feel about having me come back. It was my mom’s dream to be an actress. She gave that up when she had me and my brother and sister. I wanted to fulfill that for her.”
“Acting isn’t for everyone, and I don’t think it’s everything that it’s cracked up to be. I tried to be an actor one time.” Matt’s eyes glazed with remembrance. “I would show up to every single open audition and try to convince those people that I was cut out for show business. They were never quite convinced. After a few small jobs that were practically nothing, I gave up.”
“I’m sorry.” Emily felt a sudden understanding of Matt and his desire to keep a good business running. He probably felt like that was all he had.
“Yeah, it’s fine. It’s just a failed dream. We all have a few of those, you know, where things just don’t work out the way we want them to. But you can start a new dream, and sooner or later, one will stick, and you will be successful. Don’t give up. There is a place in this world for everyone.”
“Thanks, Matt.” Emily looked out the window to see the bus station coming into view. She really was worried about missing her bus. Matt pulled into an empty parking spot and got out of the car just as Emily did.
“I’ll get your luggage.” He opened the trunk and pulled out the suitcase. “There you are. I hope you have a great trip, Emily. Who knows, when all the renovations are done, you might want to come back and rent an apartment. I wouldn’t even charge you a deposit.”
Emily nodded, fighting tears. She wanted to go home, and she knew it was the most logical thing to do, but it still hurt giving up the dream and the job she had worked at for the last four years of her life.
“Goodbye, Matt. Thanks for everything.” Emily took the suitcase and dragged it to the waiting bus. She was ready to start the trip home. The sooner she faced her father and siblings again, the better. The long bus trip would give her time to think. By the time she arrived home, she would have a solid plan on what to do.
It was hard leaving California. All of the tall buildings, the opportunities, and the people she had gotten to know. Even though it was hard, she had to do it anyway.
Edward threw the last feed bag on the stack. He took a step back and surveyed his work. His very own feed store. Who would have thought? He certainly never would have expected to be doing so well.
“Can you believe we’ve already been open a week?” Barkley, his best friend, said from behind him.
“Yeah, how do you think people are taking to the place?” Edward wasn’t able to manage the store alone.
He had his hands full with his farm. It was a hard thing to keep his head wrapped around two different businesses, but that was the only way to go about it. People who just did farming rarely made the amount of money they needed to expand their farms. He had started the feed store so he could make enough money to purchase another piece of land to add onto his farm.
“They love it. Everyone hated driving three hours to get feed for their animals. Besides, the other products we carry here make it a competitive business for the town. Bulwark has always needed a feed store. You’re just the first person to actually run one here.” Barkley’s face beamed with pride. “Now we just have to find the rest of the workers. I can’t keep doing everything alone.”
“I know. Hopefully, we will get some people soon. I know somebody in this town needs a job.” Edward checked his watch. “I have to run. I promised Caroline I would come by today and help with Tommy.”
“All right. Don’t worry, I have this place under control. Tell Caroline and Tommy hello for me.”
“Will do.” Edward pulled on his light jacket and hurried out of the shop. It wasn’t cold. Texas was never really cold, but he liked wearing a jacket. He only took it off when it got too hot to wear one. Today, the clouds were doing him a favor by blocking out most of the sun and giving everyone a bit of a reprieve from the heat.
Edward spotted his blue pickup truck right where he had left it. He loved the vibrant color that made his truck stand out. He had loved pickup trucks since he was a child. There was never a question of what sort of vehicle he would get, only when he would get it. He hopped into the driver’s side and revved the engine.
He turned the pickup around and headed down the street. His sister’s house wasn’t far from town. He saw the light-yellow house with white window trim through the trees as he came around the last bend. He pulled up behind the beat-up red car parked in the concrete driveway.
Before he even got down from the truck, he spotted his nephew, Tommy, bounding down the steps. His dark brown curls bounced on his head as he went. He skidded to a stop right in front of Edward.
“You came!” He grinned, his ten-year-old face lighting up with joy.
“Of course, I did, buddy. I told you I would.” Edward tousled his hair. Tommy did his best to get away but was unsuccessful.
“That’s enough.” His sister’s lilting voice came from the porch of the house. “I was wondering if you would stop by.”
Edward chuckled. “Why does everyone think it is so strange that I showed up when I said I would?”
“I don’t know. Maybe because sometimes you call and say that you aren’t coming after all and then show up out of the blue, or vice versa.” Caroline shrugged, her lips lifting into a smirk.
“Fair enough. I was thinking of staying for lunch. If it’s not in the plan, I can go buy something or bring it here to share.”
“There’s plenty. You know I always cook for a football team.”
“I know. That is what I was hoping for.” Edward put his hand on Tommy’s back and followed him into the house. The house was perfectly kept. Edward had no idea how Caroline did it. There was a deep brown couch sitting on the edge of a cleaned carpet and sparkling wood floors. The place looked like it was out of a magazine.
“Do you want to see my school project? I finished it this morning.” Tommy tugged on his hand.
“Sure, why don’t you run upstairs. I’ll be right behind you.” Edward forced a bright smile for his nephew’s sake. He wanted to check in with his sister first. He knew she shielded Tommy from a lot of the hardships that she had endured since Tommy’s father had died. Edward felt like it was his responsibility to keep things running for her family. He was the only family she had left.
He waited until he saw Tommy disappear around the corner at the top of the stairs before going into the kitchen. Caroline was standing near the stove, stirring several pots, switching between them with different spoons. She was a pro in the kitchen. She had always wanted to open her own restaurant.
“Hey, I would have thought that Tommy would have kidnapped you by now.” Caroline’s cheeks were flushed.
“He did. I told him I was coming. I just wanted to check in with you. How have things been?”
“What do you mean? Things are great.” Caroline’s shoulders tensed, and her eyebrows tightened closer together.
“Caroline, you don’t have to lie to me if you need help with something. You know I’m here to help you.”
“You shouldn’t have to be here to help me. I should be able to handle it. But whenever I feel like I sort of have things under control, they fall out of control, and then I’m left wondering what I’m going to do.” Caroline’s voice shook, and she leaned against the counter, her stirring spoon still in her hand.
“What’s falling apart, Caroline? I don’t mind helping you and Tommy out. You’re my family.”
Caroline sighed. “Thanks, Edward. The car broke down. I tried looking under the hood, but I can’t fix it. I have no idea why it won’t start.”
“Don’t worry about it. Right after I look at Tommy’s project, I’ll check it out. If I can’t fix it, I will take it to town. You worry too much. We’re here to help each other out. If my food needed fixing, you would help me out, wouldn’t you?”
Caroline giggled. “I would have to start over. Nothing you cook is salvageable.”
“Way to hurt a man.” Edward placed his hand over his heart. “I guess I’d better run upstairs where I’m wanted.”
Edward left the kitchen and started up the stairs with Caroline’s laughter trailing after him. Tommy was in his room, an elaborate school project spread out in front of him. There was a display board with different colors and shapes of paper stuck on it.
“Looks impressive, Tommy. Tell me all about it.” Edward settled down into a nearby chair to hear about his nephew’s project. Most people would have thought that a ten-year-old’s project wasn’t much to talk about or interesting to listen to, but Edward would disagree. He especially cared about how much work Tommy had put into it and how excited he was to share it with him.
Edward pushed the key to his sister’s car into the ignition. He glanced over at Tommy, his faithful helper. After they had finished looking over the school project, they had gone down to check on the car right away.
“Do you think it’s going to start?” Edward asked.
“I think so, because you fixed it.” Tommy’s belief in him warmed Edward’s heart. He loved to know that someone believed in him no matter what.
“All right then. Let’s give it a try.” Edward twisted the key forward, and a relieved grin spread over his face as the soft rumble of the motor filled the car. “Look at that. We did fix it.”
“Thank you, Uncle Edward! Now we can go shopping.”
“You haven’t been shopping?” Edward frowned in concern. No matter how many times he told Caroline, she never called him for their day-to-day problems.
“No, not for a few days. But Mom said we had enough to get by until we fixed the car, so it looks like you fixed it just in time.”
“Well, if you ever need to go shopping again because you don’t have a car or money or for any other reason, you call me. Okay?”
“Okay.” Tommy nodded. “Mom said we shouldn’t bother you if we can help it.”
“Nonsense. You bother me whenever you like, okay?”
Tommy smiled. “Thanks.”
“Let’s go see what your mom made for lunch. I’m starving.” Edward jumped out of the car. “I’ll race you in.”
Tommy didn’t need to be asked twice. The two of them took off running for the porch and into the house. As they squeezed through the door, they both burst into laughter. They reached the kitchen at the same time, though Edward was certain that he had beaten Tommy by at least half a foot.
“There you are. Wash your hands and sit down at the table. Lunch is ready.” Caroline wiped her hands on the apron and pulled out three plates from the cupboard.
“Uncle Edward fixed the car,” Tommy piped up proudly.
“You did?” Caroline’s eyes widened. “How? I checked everything I could.”
“It was pretty simple. Don’t worry about it. Next time it breaks down, you call me, and I’ll have it ready for you to drive sooner than you can blink.” Edward still didn’t like the idea of Caroline and Tommy doing without food or scrimping on groceries because they didn’t want to bother him. He was there to help them. He had told Caroline as much, but she was stubborn. It was something she had inherited from their mother, he supposed.
“I will, I will. Now, let’s sit down.” Caroline set three plates mounded with delicious-looking food down on the table. There was pasta, bread, and steamed vegetables.
Edward sat down in his usual spot, right beside Tommy, and picked up his fork. His stomach rumbled, reminding him that he hadn’t eaten since before dawn that morning.
Let’s say grace.” Edward reached over and took Tommy’s hand. “Why don’t you say it today, Tommy?”
‘You think so?” Uncertainty shone in Tommy’s eyes.
“Of course. Just thank God for the food. You can do it.”
Edward watched as Tommy wrestled with himself, looking for the right words to say. Edward took his sister’s hand in his as his other hand held Tommy’s.
Tommy’s prayer was simple, but it was good. It did come from his heart, and he sounded certain. When they were done, Edward shoved his fork into the mound of pasta and began eating. The different flavors of the food washed over him.
“How has school been, Tommy? Have your teachers all been pretty nice?”
“Yeah.” Tommy shrugged. “I was excited about the play this year, but our theater teacher had an accident. The principal said he doesn’t know if we’re going to be able to do the play anymore.”
“Oh, that’s a bummer.” Edward met Caroline’s gaze. He could tell by the way she was looking at Tommy that the play had been a big deal.
“Yeah, but maybe they’ll find someone. My teacher said that they might get a substitute teacher. I like theater.”
“I loved theater as a kid. It was one of my favorite classes.” Edward waggled his eyebrows.
“It was not. You hated theater. You used to complain all the time to Mom and Dad. You would beg them not to send you to theater class. Don’t you remember that?” Caroline took a bite of food.
“Fine, I wasn’t great at theater, but I am proud of you for doing it. You are a pretty good actor, aren’t you?” Edward shoved Tommy’s shoulder playfully.
“If we get to do get to do the play, will you come and watch it?”
“Of course! No one could keep me from it.” Edward looked at his nephew proudly. He loved him like a son.
He’d made a promise when Tommy’s father died. He was going to attend every single event that Tommy participated in. If Tommy was in a sport, he was going to be the loudest fan cheering in the stands. If Tommy was in a play, of course, he would be there. If Tommy ever needed him anywhere, he would move everything he needed to in order to make it happen.
Those were the types of things that you did for family.
“Two Fragile Souls’ Tender Play” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
After years of chasing her unfulfilled dream as an actress, Emily Wright returns to her family’s farm in Bulwark Texas, only to find it falling apart. Eager to help in any way she can, she finds herself working in two different jobs. To her surprise, her new boss is the first man to prompt her interest in a very long time, but he seems emotionally unreachable. In an unexpected turn of events though, he also participates with his nephew at the school play that Emily directs, giving her the opportunity to get to know him better. Will she be able to break down the walls of this stern man that speaks to her very soul?
True love knows no boundaries…
Being no stranger to loss and heartbreak, Edward Stuart has learned the hard way to stay away from romantic relationships. However, when he meets this charming young woman, who abruptly invades many aspects of his life, he is magically drawn to her. He desperately wants to keep his distance, but as he gets to know her, he starts to realize that it is impossible to do so. Will he dare to offer his bruised heart to a stranger once again?
This might be his last chance for happiness…
When things get tough and a huge deceit comes to light, Emily will have to prove herself and Edward will have to choose who to trust. Will the two of them together manage to make it past the struggles and challenges that are thrown at them? Or will they be torn apart by lies, accusations, and deceptions?
“Two Fragile Souls’ Tender Play” is a contemporary romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.