Chasing My Sunshine - Sneak Peek
It’s so early the sun isn’t even awake yet. I slam my alarm clock and toss my legs over the edge of my bed. A moment later, I rise and pad to the bathroom to brush my hair and teeth. I pull on some jeans and a tee and rush out the door. Perhaps I should consider moving closer to the office. But… I love my townhouse. I bought it a few years ago, mostly for the gorgeous kitchen with waterfall countertops and stainless appliances. The rooms are spacious, and my furnishings have modern lines but are comfortable. My home is colorful and airy with hints of texture on the couches with pillows and a blanket over the arm of the chair.
York Beach, Maine is a quaint town with a cute village, which includes a store that pulls taffy in the window, souvenir shops, and even an amusement park. There are two popular stretches of beach as well as numerous tourist sites, like the Nubble Lighthouse and the Wiggly Bridge located in nearby Kittery.
This is my home. I only left the area to pursue my degree in landscape architecture. Now I run my own successful business, Sunshine Landscape and Design, in a neighboring town. I hop into my truck, send in my order to the coffee shop near my office, and head toward work. Thankfully, I don’t have an installation today, but my crew has one. I try to supervise as many as I can, but today I need to focus on my plan for the Cooper project. A mutual friend told my sister-in-law about a bid to landscape a new hotel in Portsmouth. It would be a huge contract for my company to earn. The summer season just ended. Fall means cleanup and maintenance, and winter is planning for spring. I spend most of my workdays during the fall and winter at home. This project will give me plenty to do over during that time.
I pull up against the curb in front of the Sweet Face Pastry Shoppe and wave to my bestie, Talia, who is the owner, as I step inside. She’s my antithesis. Tal is average height, blonde hair, and green eyes with flawless skin. She hates everything outdoors. I’ve known her since grammar school when Jimmy Delano slid his desk forward and caught her hair. I flattened him with one shove. I received detention for a week, and Talia became my bestie the very same day.
“Hey. Your order isn’t ready yet. The espresso machine is having a tantrum despite the early hour. Here, take your muffin and a water, and I’ll get your coffee as soon as I can.” She shoves an apple cinnamon strudel muffin and water in my hand, then she scurries away.
I take a seat near the window and pick at my favorite muffin. No offense to Talia and her yummy creation, but the coffee is more important. I glance up when a tall, lean man with dark hair and light eyes steps into the bakery with a young girl, probably his daughter. If I had to guess, given her tall frame and awkwardness, she looks about twelve. I recall that feeling very well. As casually as I can, I watch them. Not true, I’m watching him. He moves gracefully as they approach the counter.
Jenny, one of the other baristas, steps up and takes their order. Once she finishes ringing them out, Tal shouts, “Joey, your coffee.”
Seriously, Tal! She has been making fun of my nickname since we were kids. My family and close friends call me Frankie. The first time I ordered a coffee from her, she labeled it with a typically male nickname that can be for a female.
I shake my head, take the cup, and give her the side-eye. “Call me later.” I raise my cup as I walk out the door. After settling into the driver’s seat, I pull into traffic toward the office.
My work office is boring. I have a large, sturdy, wood desk and a comfy chair. There are two armless client chairs, which are from my dining set at home. I refuse to buy more chairs when I have two extra at home. There’s a table along the wall with photo books of previous jobs. On the other wall is a small window and some plants. When I arrive, I plop down in my chair and boot up my laptop.
Once it wakes, I open the Cooper file and set out the requirements on my desk again. I refuse to fail due to a technicality. The bidding sheet sets forth the specifications for the landscape design, including the height of the shrubbery and which colors would be allowed for flowers.
By the end of the lunch hour, I have reviewed my plan numerous times. I have two more days to perfect it before the presentation. When I finish my review, I shut everything down and drive to today’s jobsite.
When I arrive, I’m surprised at the progress the crew has made in one morning. “Hey, Eric. How’s it going here?”
Eric is my foreman. If I’m not in charge of a site, he is. I hired him after I was in business for a little over a year. I couldn’t handle the work on my own any longer. Eric is a few years older than me, but we are clear on boundaries and responsibilities. He has a wife, Amy, and two young boys named Dylan and Declan.
“Afternoon, Frankie. This job is moving smoothly. The shrubbery along the pool is complete. I’m hoping to get this portion done before it rains later this week.” He indicates the tree line near the edge of the yard on the schematic.
“Good plan. Mind if I take a look?”
“Not at all, you’re the boss.” Most of the men in this industry aren’t a fan of a female boss. The irony isn’t lost on me; landscaping is about making the outside of a home or business beautiful, yet it’s a male-dominated field. I follow the path around the house and wave to the rest of the crew. Jamie is a young kid, fresh out of high school. He’s a great worker, punctual, and overall pleasant guy. Manuel is his complete opposite in looks and age. He’s an older man who is set in his ways. I have learned a few old-school tricks from him, but thankfully he follows my plans as I set them out.
The shrubbery along the pool fence line is perfect, and the immature trees the client requested are being placed right now. Content with their progress, I return to the front of the house where Eric is consulting the plans again.
“Hey. Everything looks perfect back there. I’m heading back to the office and then home. Call me if you need anything,” I inform Eric.
“Thanks, Frankie. I’ll let you know.”
As I sit in my seat, my phone chimes with my sister Lia’s dedicated notification.
Lia: Hey, sis. Can you come pick me up?
Guess I’m not going back to the office.
Me: Sure, but it’ll be a bit longer. I’m near the office. Where are you?
Lia: I’m at work.
Me: I’ll be there in thirty. Can you order me a burger and fries to go?
Lia: Sure can.
I hurry to meet Lia, at least it’s her family nickname. Her full name is Amelia, and she’s the youngest of my siblings. Along the way, I hear my phone chime with more notifications from my siblings. I even gave my sister-in-law, Willa, her own notification. Willa married my brother Luca about six months ago. She’s perfect for him. They met after my brother was shot negotiating with my ex-brother-in-law. Thankfully, my oldest sister, Lina, and her two kids were able to get out of the house safely. Willa was his nurse at the hospital. It took them a few years to finally go on an actual date though. Now Luca is a crisis negotiator with the state police. In fact, their fates changed at Hops and Barley where Lia now works. I also have another sister, Lily, who is a hedge fund manager. Her hours are almost as crazy as mine, although today I got lucky.
I park at the curb and step inside the brewery. Lia is near the bar with her friend from school, Scarlett. They met at the beginning of the semester when Scarlett transferred here from NYU. Her sister, Savannah, is friends with Willa. Lia hugs Scarlett and moves toward me with my dinner.
“Hey, Lia. How was class and your shift?”
“Hi. Thanks for picking me up. Luca got called to a hostage scene about an hour ago.” We head outside and hop into my truck.
“No problem. I was going to need dinner anyway.”
“To answer your question, class was fine, and the shift was dead. What about you? How is the plan for the Cooper project?”
I shake my head. Our family is super close, and we share almost everything. “The plan is great. I incorporated everything the bid requires. Now I need to land the job.”
“Of course you’ll land the job.”
“I appreciate your confidence in me, Lia, but this is a big deal. This bid is for the Portsmouth hotel. The overarching plan consists of ten hotels in the northeast.”
“Frankie, you’re a Cappelli. All of us are strong, gorgeous, and badass. You’ve got this!”
Literal sisterhood for the win right there. I pull in front of her apartment complex. Lia leans over and hugs me. “I’ll see you on Sunday unless I pick up Scarlett’s shift.”
“Why does she need you to pick up her shift?”
Lia shrugs. She doesn’t want to share, but I know if I simply wait her out, she will. “I think she has a date with a local cop.”
Interesting. Before Luca took his position with the state police, he was YPD. “Do you know who it is?”
“Nope, she didn’t divulge his name because of Luca. Love you.” She hurries inside without hearing my reply.
“Love you most.”
After a quick ride home, I curl up on my patio and eat my burger. Thankfully, it’s still warm. I hope to get some sleep tonight. The presentation is on Friday, and my nerves are already on edge. When I’m nervous, sleep typically eludes me.
“Come on, Ellie. We need to go if you want a muffin from Sweet Face before school,” I call upstairs for the second time in the last fifteen minutes. Honestly, I don’t like to rush her. She might be late for school, but my mornings with her are in short supply. Her mother, Tess, and I have been divorced for six years. Initially our shared custody arrangement was simpler. We lived in the same city, and neither of us had moved on to a new relationship.
I would like to say the end of our marriage was completely her fault. That isn’t completely accurate. I was unhappy in my lucrative job in Boston, but Tess was blissfully happy spending my salary while caring for our daughter. She was supportive when I changed jobs, even acknowledged her spending was out of control, and she even offered to look for a job to help with the pay cut. However, no help came. Instead, Tess became angry my choice to change jobs forced her to curtail her spending and refused to find a job. I was at my current position for about six months before she asked for a divorce. We have a shared custody agreement, which was going well until she married Michael.
“I’ll be right there.” Ellie’s response pulls me out of my head.
I have nothing against Michael, at least from the information I know. He’s good to my daughter, and Tess seems perfectly content spending his old money left and right. The most recent issue is Tess wants to move to western Connecticut and take Ellie with her. We’re trying to come up with a plan on our own that doesn’t uproot Ellie. We haven’t made any progress and are set for mediation next week.
I haven’t been lucky in the dating department post-divorce like Tess. Unlucky may not be accurate. At the beginning, I was hesitant to put myself out there. Who would date a single dad with a six-year-old and a difficult ex-wife? The dating pool in this area is small. At least in Boston, the number of potential dates would have been higher.
“Eleanor, now!” My voice louder and more forceful this time.
“Geez, Dad. I’m right here.”
I follow her out to the car, and we head to the bakery. After parking, we approach from the far side of the shoppe. There’s a beautiful woman sitting alone at a table near the window. Her dark hair is piled on top of her head in a topknot, her skin is flawless, and she appears lost in thought. After noticing her, I continue inside with Ellie. She places her order, and I add a coffee and muffin for myself.
The barista takes our order and disappears into the back. Another blonde barista returns and calls out, “Joey, your coffee.”
The woman from near the window simply shakes her head, grabs the cup from the barista, and then says, “Call me.” Clearly they know each other personally, but I’ve never met a woman named Joey before. I can only think of one name it could be short for—Josephine. It’s old-fashioned and wouldn’t fit a woman like her.
I mentally chastise myself. I know nothing about this woman other than she frequents this coffee shop, knows the barista, and is beautiful.
“Dad, let’s go. I’m going to be late,” Ellie mumbles.
I follow her out of the bakery and back to the car. She makes it to school with five minutes to spare.
“I’ll see you on Friday after school, Ellie. I love you more.”
“Bye, Dad. See you then. I love you most.” Most girls of her age won’t share their feelings, especially at school drop-off. Luckily, Ellie understands how difficult sharing time with Tess is for me. I never had to tell her, she simply knows despite her age. I would never have chosen for my marriage to end, but it did.
I park in my assigned spot and slip into my office unnoticed. I have worked here for the last seven years. I manage the commercial properties for the Hayward Group. Currently, I’m handling two large accounts, including the Cooper Hotel and Omni Park. The Cooper Hotel is a new build, and I coordinate all the contractors from the electricians to the painters. Omni Park is a large complex with indoor and outdoor space, including a ropes course, water slides, and even a mini golf course.
My assistant, Melissa, set up presentations for tomorrow and Friday for the Cooper project. Along with the committee, I plan to select the winning bid by the end of next week at the latest. My focus today is on Omni and scheduling a permit review for each aspect in time for opening day in about a month.
I spend my entire day on the phone being shuttled from underling to supervisor and back again between departments at city hall. This shouldn’t be this hard. After a draining day of phone calls and skipping lunch, I head home just after five. I didn’t even have time to check my texts until I sit in the driver’s seat of my car to go home.
Remi: Hey, bud.
Remi: Dude, we’re going to the brewery tonight. Join us.
Remi: I know Ellie went to back to Tess’s.
Me: I’m drained. Not tonight, maybe on the weekend.
Remi: I’ll hold you to that.
I shake my head at my best friend and turn over the engine. I hate going home on Wednesdays. At the beginning of the day, it’s me and Ellie, but she isn’t there when I get home. Co-parenting royally sucks. As much as I despise Tess not putting in the work for our marriage, I never show it in front of Ellie. Until her petition to move Ellie to Connecticut, everything was fine except for the need to share time with my daughter.
Grabbing a beer from the fridge, I flop down on my couch and flick on Sportscenter. Preseason football is the main storyline. Despite where I live, I root for the New York Giants. Last year the team certainly had a decent season, especially considering they have a new head coach. I finish my beer and tackle a show on my DVR with a stop in the middle to chat with Ellie on the phone about her day.
“Hey. How was your math test?”
She sighs. Math isn’t her favorite subject. “It wasn’t terrible. I think I did okay.”
“All right. I’m proud of you.”
“Thanks. I have to get going. Mom is sending me upstairs to get my reading done.”
“Okay. Love you more, Ellie.”
“Love you most, Dad.” I glance at the clock and wonder why Tess is sending Ellie upstairs so early. Generally, I don’t question Tess when Ellie is with her and she doesn’t question me. It seems odd my daughter is relegated to her bedroom. Their house has six bedrooms, and only three people live there.
I make a note to keep it in mind to ask Ellie on Friday. Otherwise spent, I turn in early myself. If I’m lucky, I might be able to see Joey in the morning.