Post Grad Doesn’t Always Go As Planned
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Determined to honor her friend’s legacy, Ingrid finally finds her true purpose in life. When a sudden disaster threatens everything she’s built, though, Ingrid resolves to fix everything—or lose it all.
Ever After is the fourth and final novelette in the On the Edge series, and the story of how five friends find their own ever after. (Sandpaper Fidelity fans: Ever After contains what would have been Episodes #31-40. Complete your collection now!)
Five Years Later…
David pushed the stroller over the hump of the door jam, gritting his teeth as the stroller leaped four inches into the air. His eyes flew down to little Nana Josalee, his heart fluttering in his chest. But Nana Jo only laughed with glee, clapping her hands together.
“Again, Daddy!” she cheered.
They went through this routine every day. He shook his head at himself. He was turning into a helicopter mom. He wondered if it would be worse if Nana Jo was biologically related to him. Named for the Japanese lucky number seven, his two-year-old daughter was nothing but. She had been born to a scrawny woman who spoke no English—unless she needed to buy some smack. Nana Jo had been born with HIV and left in the hands of the maternity ward nurses. Lucky for her, David had been hoping to adopt a baby. He just hadn’t planned on getting a daughter who might die before he did. Every sniffle and every ache she expressed threw him into a panic.
“Good morning,” chirped a familiar voice.
David looked up from Nana Jo to see Ingrid waddling toward them, a baby in her arms and a toddler wrapped around her leg. He snorted. “They look good on you,” he said.
She beamed. “I thought so, too.” She bent toward Nana Jo. “Good morning, Nana!”
The little girl smiled up at Ingrid. “Innie,” she cooed.
Ingrid smiled wider at the nickname.
David shrugged. “She still can’t say your name yet, or Auntie.”
“That’s okay,” Ingrid told Nana Jo. “I’ll take Innie any day.” She straightened.
“It’s amazing,” David said to her. “I never expected my life to be like this.” He swore he could see Josalee in his daughter. Over five years had passed since he lost Josalee and their unborn child, and even though it got easier, he still grieved for them. Things were definitely better, though. Although his speech was slightly slurred, and he still had to go to both occupational and speech therapy, he was alive. As soon as he had found a job, he started thinking about adopting.
The road had been long and hard, but worth it. He lifted Nana Jo from the stroller and kissed the tip of her nose. Thrusting her up into the air, he wiggled his fingers under her armpits. She shrieked with laughter.
“Hey, I meant to tell you, you sound good,” Ingrid said over Nana Jo.
He lowered his daughter to the floor and watched as she ran off toward a group of kids her age. “Thanks,” he told Ingrid.
“I mean it,” she said, her blue eyes shining. She tucked a strand of blonde hair behind one ear—her signature habit, for as long as he could remember. “Josalee would be proud.” She flushed as she said it.
He remembered when, not too long ago, none of his friends could say her name in his presence. He nodded and pulled Ingrid into a one-armed hug. “She would be proud of you,” he told her. Tears stung his eyes. He closed them, hoping she wouldn’t see. It was one thing to grieve. It was another to still completely lose it five years later. One day at a time, he reminded himself. Those were the same words he used when he wanted a drink. One day at a time.
He opened his eyes to see Edric come out of the office. Like Ingrid’s ex-boyfriend Victor, Edric was tall and dark, but their similarities ended there. The daycare’s occupational therapist laughed more than anyone David had ever met, and after three years of romantic dating, he hadn’t hesitated to put a ring on Ingrid’s finger. Edric was the kind of man that David would date, if Edric were into men. Anyone who shunned reality television was a friend of David’s.
Edric put his arms around Ingrid’s waist and kissed her on the cheek. As they linked hands, their wedding rings flashed in the light. David smiled, watching his friends. Ingrid may have singlehandedly brainstormed the daycare for children with HIV and AIDS, but it was Edric who made it work. Together, they were a powerful force.
“Wanna tell him, babe?” Edric asked Ingrid. She nodded eagerly. “We have an announcement,” he told David.
“We’re pregnant!” Ingrid burst out. No baby bump showed under her sweater, but she glowed all the same.
David’s eyes widened, his lips spread into an ear to ear grin, and he gasped. Rushing over to them, he wrapped his arms as far around them both as he could. He bounced on his feet. “Girl, I am already planning your shower!”
David knew exactly which decorations he would use, and the perfect gender-neutral color scheme. He could practically see his and Octavia’s living room, a pyramid of gifts for the new baby almost touching the ceiling. “Of course,” he said, releasing them and winking at Edric, “it’ll be a Jack and Jill.” He clapped his hands. “Oh, I’m so excited!” He hugged Ingrid again.
The door to the daycare opened, sending in a rush of cool air from outside. Having the store front suite kind of sucked sometimes. David, Ingrid, and Edric all turned in unison.
A man wearing round glasses stood at the entrance, his lips turned down. He paused for a moment, then strode toward them. David crossed his arms, stepping protectively in front of Ingrid.
“Good morning, Jonah,” she called to the man.
The name sounded familiar. David moved aside. A knot formed in the pit of his stomach. Even though the man’s name brought no negative feeling to mind, David still had a bad feeling.
Jonah gave David and Edric a curt nod, then turned to Ingrid. “I have some, uh, news,” he said.
David watched as she nibbled on her lower lip. “Oh?” she said. A crease formed in the center of her forehead.
Jonah sighed. “As you know, this building holds my office and some other offices, as well as your daycare. I’m here to let you know, in person, that I am selling the building.”
Suddenly, David remembered where he heard the name before. He, Ingrid, and Edric gasped. For a moment, he thought Ingrid might faint. Her face paled and her eyelids fluttered. Then she put her hand on Edric’s arm.
“You’re selling?” she repeated.
Jonah Morgan nodded. “I’m sorry, Ingrid. To be quite honest, I’m losing money. I may not look it, but I’ll be retiring in a few months. You understand, right?”
Ingrid nodded. “Of course,” she stammered.
“This, of course, voids our current lease. I’ll get you something in writing this afternoon.” Jonah wrung his hands. “I just wanted to tell you in person. You’ve been a good tenant, and I think what you’ve done here is really amazing.” Before anyone could say anything else, Jonah fled the daycare.
Silence fell over the small group. In the background, the toddlers shrieked and giggled.
“Um, excuse me,” said a familiar adult voice.
David glanced at Kimie, Josalee’s younger sister. Ingrid seemed to not notice her.
“What’s up, Kimie?” Edric asked, his voice soft.
Kimie’s eyebrows furrowed, but she didn’t ask any questions. “It’s, um, time for OT to start.”
Edric glanced at his watch, then nodded. “Of course. Give us one more minute, and I’ll get started. Maybe read them a quick story,” he suggested.
“Sure,” Kimie said, bouncing away.
“Are you okay, babe?” Edric asked Ingrid.
David touched her arm, steadying his friend.
“Everything I’ve done,” she whispered, “gone, just like that.”
“Nah,” Edric said. “We can figure out something else.” He pressed a kiss to Ingrid’s forehead.
She pulled away, shaking her head. “This was the cheapest rent I could get. You don’t know this, but he gave me the first year for free.” She bit her lip, turning to David. “We’re in the red, David. We’re just barely making it.”
He forced his lips into a smile that he hoped was reassuring. “It’ll be okay.” They all knew that wasn’t true, though. The downtown building could be renovated into apartments, turning the store front and upper offices into a cash cow. No one in their right mind would purchase it and leave it the way it was—not with the college campus so close. Anyone with half a brain could purchase it on a mortgage, take out a loan for the renovations, and rent it out to college students who were also living off borrowed money.
“We’ve got to get rolling, babe,” Edric told Ingrid gently. “For the kids?” He lifted her chin and kissed her.
She smiled, swallowing hard. “Okay.” She blew David a kiss. “See you this evening?”
He nodded and walked out of the daycare, clutching his car keys. There was nothing else like JoJo’s Daycare. It was the only one he knew of that specifically took children with HIV. Not only did Ingrid teach them, but she and Edric also worked with them to make them stronger. Even the sickest kids had gotten so much better. Slowly but surely, Ingrid was buying all of her students more time—even if her business wasn’t making much money.
Other daycares were filled with germs that would make Nana Jo sick. If he worried about sniffles, he would never sleep knowing that she was smack in the middle of so much uncleanliness. Sweat beaded on his forehead despite the cool air outside, and he had to lean against the building. His heart hammered in his chest, and his body shook. Not only was his heart broken for Ingrid and heavy to see Josalee’s legacy die so young, but he also had no idea where Nana Jo could safely stay while he worked.
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Thank you so much to everyone who supported this series from the beginning. When I first started Sandpaper Fidelity in July 2012, I had no expectations. I just wanted to try writing a serial, and had these incredibly loud character ideas jump into my head. From Josalee’s dislike of music to Octavia’s love affair with orange juice, it’s been a wild ride. Thank you for reading.
The On the Edge series now has special pricing!
- Positive (On the Edge #1): $0.00*
- Upside Down (On the Edge #2): $0.99
- Losing It (On the Edge #3): $1.99
- Ever After (On the Edge #4): $2.99
*Kindle and Nook readers: please use Smashwords to download your free copy.