Hey everybody! Well, the Magnolias & Moonshine project is well underway now, and pretty soon it’ll be my turn! My novella, Heat Wave, is also part of the Nerds of Paradise series, even though it takes place in Atlanta instead of Haskell, Wyoming. And since it’s the weekend, how about a peek?
There were few emotions in life that couldn’t be resolved by breaking out a crowbar and tearing up a floor. Angelica jammed the tool into the old, crumbling kitchen floor in Mrs. Brown’s house, focusing on the heat and pull of her muscles as she tore out the old to make way for the new.
If only it was as easy to do the same with life. Weeks ago, when she’d first gotten the letter from Paradise Space Flight letting her know Dennis would be coming to discuss the job they’d offered her, she’d shrugged it off. She knew Dennis worked for PSF. That was the whole reason she’d applied for the job in the first place. Although it was nothing personal. Not at all. Dennis had always had good taste. Any company he worked for had to be solid.
She jammed the crowbar into the boards again and tugged with all her might.
“Careful, Angie,” her friend and the project’s manager, Latoya called to her from the other side of the room. “You’re gonna go straight through the sub-floor to the basement if you keep at it like that.”
“Right.” Angelica nodded and straightened. She tossed the rotting boards into the pile of debris near the door, adjusted her work goggles, then bent to tear up the next board.
It was nothing personal. She hadn’t been intrigued by PSF because it could be a chance to right a thousand past wrongs. The possibility of living close to Dennis again was the furthest thing from her mind.
And if she kept telling herself that, maybe a unicorn would swoop out of the sky and whisk her off to fairyland.
She sighed and set the crowbar aside to pry up the stubborn board with two hands. She was a PhD now, an astrophysicist. The top aerospace industries in the country were courting her. She’d proved every nay-sayer in her life wrong, proved that a woman of color could excel in a field dominated by white men. So why did she feel like the same confused thirteen-year-old girl who cried herself to sleep at night over having to choose popular girls she didn’t like over a dorky boy she really liked?
“Whoa, whoa, hold on, girl.” Latoya straightened from the pile of new boards she was nailing into the floor. The fine sheen of perspiration on her bare arms and wetting the neck of her tank-top made her friend look good, tough, while Angelica was sure it only made her look nasty. “You sure you’re up to this today? You’re tossing that mess around like it insulted your mama.”
Angelica managed a tired smile as she rocked back to sit on the floor. “Yeah, I’m okay. I guess I’ve just got post-graduation let-down or something.”
It didn’t feel right lying to Latoya. Latoya was the only friend from the neighborhood who had stuck by her when she decided to break all the molds and study science instead of boys. She was the only one willing to hang out with a pop-turned-geek when the mean girls turned their noses up at her. And she was the only one that would have been missed if she’d ditched her too.
Latoya crossed her arms. With her hammer still in hand, goggles still in place, and her close-cut, natural hair glistening with sweat, Angelica felt like Latoya was some kind of avenging angel come to call her out on everything she’d ever done wrong.
“This doesn’t have anything to do with a certain old friend coming back to town, does it?”
Angelica looked away. It wasn’t enough to avoid the swoopy feeling in her gut. She picked up her crowbar and went back to work on the floor.
Latoya stayed where she was. “Leon told me all about it,” she said, returning to work at her end of the room.
Of course he would. Angelica should have figured he’d give her the full report of graduation.
“It doesn’t bother me,” she insisted. “In fact, I was really happy to see Dennis again.”
“Mmm hmm.” Latoya arched a brow as much as she could with the thick goggles on and started hammering.
“No, really, I am happy,” Angelica insisted.
“I don’t doubt that.” Latoya raised her voice to be heard over her hammering. “I’m just curious about how happy you are.”
“Very happy.” Angelica tried to shrug casually.
“Mmmm hmmm.” Latoya drew the two syllables out even longer this time.
Angelica shrugged. “What, was I supposed to be angry at him for coming back? Sad? You got some other emotion you’d rather I felt?”
“Girl, don’t get defensive with me.” Latoya rocked back on her heels and pointed her hammer at Angelica. “You forget, I was there that year after he left. I saw how listless you were. You, my friend, pined.”
“I did not pine.” Angelica sent her a frown. “I was sorry to have lost a friend is all.”
“Friend? Is that what you call it?”
Angelica’s face flooded with heat. “Yes. Dennis and I were friends.”
Latoya shook her head. “You led that poor boy around by the nose and you know it.”
“I was just a kid, Tee. I didn’t know what I was doing.” Angelica’s face burned even hotter.
“Even kids know when they’re being nasty.” Latoya went back to hammering. “What always surprised me was why he kept sniffing around after you, year after year.”
“Because we shared common interests,” Angelica said, straining as she pried up another board. “He was the only one who would do experiments with me.”
“Oh, experiments? Is that what the kids are calling it these days?” Latoya laughed.
Angelica huffed out a breath. “See, that’s exactly my point. All the princessy girls ever wanted to do was paint their nails and straighten their hair and make eyes at the boys. Dennis actually talked about things, did things. Interesting things.”
“Like making out in the science lab after chemistry club?”
Angelica tossed a rotting board aside, smirking at her friend and trying to play it cool. “Once.” Or maybe twice. And it had been nice. At least, it had been nice until Jane Peterson had caught them in a clinch and spread the rumor all through the school that Angelica was a nerd slut. Damn, she’d hated high school.
Poor Angelica has a lot more coming her way!
Heat Wave is now available for preorder at: