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The Plan (Off-Limits Romance #4)
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You’ve heard this story before. Woman feels her biological clock ticking and gets someone to knock her up.
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“Between any two beings there is a unique, uncrossable distance, an unenterable sanctuary. Sometimes it takes the shape of aloneness. Sometimes it takes the shape of love.”
–Jonathan Safran Foer
There are a lot of pros, I tell myself as I drive South. For one: the lack of smog. I couldn’t put a percentage on it, but my lungs will be a good bit healthier in Fate than they were in Chicago. I could add years onto my life by moving home. Okay, maybe not years, but probably months. They say every moment is a chance to turn it all around, right?
Not the U-Haul, Marley.
Throw another strike in the “pro” column for the teensie crime rate in my hometown. You’re not going to lose your life at random in small-town Alabama. If you get killed, it’s going to be because your coked-out bestie crashed the boat when you were working on your tan sans life jacket, or your off-the-wagon cousin Larry thought your festive reindeer antlers were the real deal at the family Christmas party.
By the way, after the party, you won’t have to worry about driving home in snow. Winters here are cold and wet, with lots of pass-the-Prozac gray skies, but sometimes it’s mild enough to stroll the boardwalk by the lake or even take a boat out.
The lake. See? Total pro right there. It’s big and…soothing. Right? I mean, the lake is totally soothing. Most people soothe themselves by fishing, a mind-numbing pastime that makes me want to drown myself, but there are certain times when boating can be fun. I spent my high school years skiing, drinking, and making out on islands.
Those were good times.
As if to reassert itself, Lake Fate glints between the pines. The highway furls onto a wooden bridge whose planks clack as I steer the U-Haul over it and into a tunnel of massive, mossy oaks. And even though I grew up here, and even though I’ve always come home once a year, I’m almost stunned by the beautiful scene in front of me: a line of pristine, pre-war mansions, glistening like jewels under the storybook trees.
Fate is known in Hollywood as a setting for feel-good, down-home films. Every spring, the people here spritz up their antique palaces and welcome camera-toting tourists, all eager to step back in time and see the world through a simpler lens.
I pass the shady median where a wrought-iron sign proclaims, in fancy script, “Fate Will Change Your Life.”
It should probably say, “Itty bitty town, majestic ego…”
Life-changing this place is not, but it does have another big strike in its favor: cheapness. Seriously—everything, so cheap it’s almost laughable.
You can get one of these stately mansions for three-hundred thousand dollars, and a sprawling lake-front lot for less than a million. Average income in a place like Chicago stretches here into enough to live like royalty.
The canopy of oaks thins just a little, revealing the picturesque town square. At its center is a giant catfish statue, leaping from a brick concourse amidst several fun spray fountains.
The Fate Hotel, a caved-in relic when my mom was little, was elegantly restored when I was a kid: three red-brick levels sporting ivy-covered, iron balconies, Greek-revival-style columns, and a gold-lettered awning.
As I wait at the red light beside the hotel, a group of tourists on bicycles pedal down the sidewalk that runs down Main, toward the lake.
I catalogue the shops that line the square as my foot clamps the brakes: florist, farmer’s market, antique store, coffee shop, bike shop, jewelry store, monogramming shop, even a boat dealership.
All things I can’t afford to even think about right now, but…one day soon, I hope.
I grit my teeth as I hang a right at the light, bypassing the rest of cutesy Main and driving slowly through another gorgeous, historic neighborhood. The narrow street tilts upward, and I gas the U-Haul toward the top of Rudolph Hill. A few minutes later, I roll to a stop under the trees at Rudolph Park and look down at my little town. The Baptist church steeple. The giant, round silos. The old mill—now a bank—and the stripes of train tracks cutting into Main and Dixie. Everything shaded by pine forest. Everything swathed in kudzu vines.
A line of sweat trickles down the side of my nose, and I suddenly I have to bite my lip to keep from crying.
I can’t lie, not even to myself; I didn’t want this. Don’t.
In the back of my U-Haul, folded into a small square, is a posh and cozy, $800 pram—a designer stroller that would have been a chariot for my sweet, fat-cheeked baby angel.
I sink my teeth into my lower lip, but can’t hold back a tiny sob. I would have taught you how to plant seed, and drive a boat, hop on a tire swing and throw your head back till you’re dizzy. We would have strolled down Main Street in your silly, fancy stroller. You would have been the cutest baby anywhere in Alabama in your frou-frou little outfits.