Deleted Chapters

When THE JERK NEXT DOOR was initially published, I had two chapters towards the end that focused on Scott and his mum. In a later edition, those chapters were removed, as I felt they slowed down the plot a little.

Still, those two chapters were a little fun and I wanted to keep them around just in case some fans of the book wanted to read them.

Both chapters are below and follow each other in the narrative. In context to the story, they follow Leo’s birthday party after Isla throws up on his shoes. Enjoy!


Chapter Twenty

“Ms. Matthews, I’m afraid you’re going to have to make a payment soon,” the man on the other end of the phone told me.

My heart sank as I stared around Florista, wondering if this was the end. Phone conversations like this one made me doubt what I was doing with my life.

“I understand, Jeff,” I said, remembering his name from the beginning of this morbid conversation, “but things with my shop are very tough right now.”

“And I understand that, Ms. Matthews, but failure to keep up with your payments will force us to take further action.”

Further action?

I really wanted to disappear right now.

“Well, let me see what I can do,” I finally said. “I can try to make a payment at the end of the week, if that’s okay.”

“Of course, that’s fine with us. We’re here to help.”

When I finally got off the phone with Jeff the Jerk, I became engrossed in the financials folder, fretting over the diminishing numbers. How was I going to turn this around? I couldn’t keep putting money into the store and maintain payments for the loan I’d taken out without business improving.

“What’ve you got there?”

Scott’s spectacled face was scrunched up as he leaned over the front counter of Florista, trying to glimpse what I was reading.

At the sound of his voice, I almost fell out of the stool I was perched on. I’d been so consumed by my financial woes that I hadn’t even heard the bell signal Scott’s arrival.

“Oh, hey!” I hastily pushed the folder aside and rounded the counter to greet him. “It’s just finances for the store, not a nudie magazine or anything fun like that.” I paused, mentally kicking myself. “Uh, not that I look at that sort of thing.”

Luckily, my comment seemed to have rolled off his back. That happened a lot; he always seemed unaffected by the strange things I said. For whatever reason, that seemed to bother me, as though he wasn’t embracing my personality and simply ignoring it.

“You look pretty,” he remarked, as he began wrapping his spindly arms around me.

Taking in his appearance, my mind tried to configure an appropriate compliment for him. He was dressed in simple, black pants and a pink and brown argyle shirt that was so awful it would only be appropriate to wear in pitch black conditions.

“Thanks, uh, you-look-thrashing,” I said so quickly that I hoped he’d heard ‘dashing’.

As I tried to return his hug, our arms became entangled like a clumsy ball of string and we flailed around like a pair of drunken Tetris pieces. The struggle was real. Finally, I simply dropped my arms and stepped into his.

From somewhere behind me, Arun emitted a gagging noise. I’d almost forgotten he was positioned behind the counter, reorganizing the various spools of ribbon in a way he felt was more “visually efficient” for customers, whatever that meant. He hadn’t said anything when I’d gotten off the phone.

“Oh, how sweet to see the two of you together,” he said, his voice dripping with the sarcasm he reserved only for Scott.

I ignored him.

“How was your weekend?” I asked, as Scott and I released each other.

“Actually, it was great,” he told me, resting against the counter and adjusting his slightly askew glasses. “Since I finalized my work with the microfiber sponges, I’m vying for the account of a company that sells, wait for it.” He paused here for dramatic effect. “Stainless steel gloves!”

My heart did a half-hearted flop.

“Wow,” I said, cringing internally at how distant and lackluster my voice sounded. “That’s so…cool.”

I really hoped “cool” was a sufficient amount of excitement for stainless steel gloves because I was pretty sure I couldn’t muster anything more enthusiastic than that.

Luckily, Scott didn’t seem to notice.

“I know, I can’t wait to get started. They practically sell themselves,” he continued rapidly, missing the fact I didn’t care. “Soft on hands, tough on grime, even Superman won’t want to slip off these hands of steel!”

Arun let out a sound like a dying mule.

“Wow,” I repeated again, unsure of how to respond to that. “That’s so catchy.”

“Thanks,” Scott said obliviously, a proud smile spreading across his face. “So, did you have fun at your neighbor’s party?”

My neighbor’s party. Definitely not something I wanted to rehash. After the horrifying moment where I’d thrown up on Leo, my friends had immediately ushered me home to throw up some more before tucking me into bed and returning to the party.

I’d been too hungover on Sunday to do much, aside from staggering downstairs to heat up some stinky, week-old pasta that was enough to send me running to the bathroom again.

Arun had come by to gloat in my misery and talk my ear off about his pretentious Ibiza Chic party, going into extensive detail about the luxurious shower curtains in each bathroom.

Thankfully, Jac had also swung by with homemade quesadillas and convinced Arun to leave me alone.

What was strange—and the part I really didn’t want to think about—was Leo hadn’t come by at all. No visits, no phone calls, and no messages. An ill feeling wriggled inside my stomach every time I thought about him, and I couldn’t help but wonder if he was mad at me. I didn’t want it to bother me, but it did.

“It was okay,” I finally responded in a blasé tone. “We didn’t stay very long.”

“I wonder why,” Arun said brightly, switching around the green and yellow ribbons, and making me want to strangle the living daylights out of him with said ribbons.

Scott stared from Arun to me in confusion, but I simply shot him a winning grin, not wanting him to suspect that anything weird was going on. Because there were many weird things going on. Too many to name.

“Well, I’m glad to hear that, especially after our,” and he lowered his voice here as though he was shielding his words from Arun’s prying ears, “not so great date. I really am sorry about that, Isla.”

It was there in Scott’s eyes; how much he’d wanted the date to go well, how much he wanted us to go well. He had messaged me all weekend apologizing for his allergy outbreak, which I partially felt responsible for considering it was my cat that had caused it.

“Really, it’s fine,” I said with a dismissive wave of my hand. “I’m sure we’ll look back on it one day and think it was the funniest thing ever.”

The words were already out of my mouth before I realized it sounded like I was hinting at a future between us, which wasn’t what I’d meant at all. From the way Scott was beaming, he’d come to the same conclusion.

“I’m really glad you said that Isla because I had something in mind. This might be a little unconventional, but I was, um, hoping I could make up for the date by taking you somewhere,” he said, a hopeful look on his face. “Like now.”

“Uh.” I stared around the store uncertainly, my eyes falling on Arun who was frowning at this latest development. “Now now?”

“Yes, now now.” He nodded eagerly, appearing to have gained some kind of unseen confidence. “If you think you could spare about thirty minutes, I really want you to meet my mother. She’s right around the corner, actually, at Little French Frog. It could be an early lunch for the boss. You have to have some perks, right?”

Scott’s words almost knocked me over. I would’ve been less surprised if a rabbit had come through the store riding a pink flamingo wearing a Motley Crue cardigan.

Arun coughed violently in the background.

“F-frog, hmm, mother, oh, mother,” I stammered, trying to appear unaffected. I was pretty sure all I’d managed to do was sound thoroughly insane. “Are you, uh, sure that would be okay? I mean, we’re not even officially dating.”

Since I hadn’t dated anyone in a long time, I was a little blurry on the details, but I was pretty sure you didn’t meet someone’s parents until you’d been together for a while or were knocked up, which was impossible in our case considering the most sexual experience we’d had was Scott spraying me with his boogers.

“More than okay,” he assured me with a smile. “My mother is very, er, particular about who I date. She likes to meet potential girlfriends early on in the relationship.”

Arun was still coughing.

“Okay, great,” I forced out awkwardly. “I would love to meet her. So much. So very muchness. Cool.”

“Awesome, I’ll text her so she knows we’re on our way,” Scott said nonchalantly, not sensing my discomfort as he pulled out his phone. “Do you think you could make a bouquet for her, like you always do?”

“Yes, we can!” Arun jumped in before I could say anything, his fit of coughing magically subsiding. “We have some excellent blooms in the back. Isla, let’s proceed to the back.”

“Uh, sure,” I mumbled, certain I was in a state of shock. I knew Arun had something to say to me, and my only comfort was he wasn’t saying it in front of Scott.

Arun grabbed a hold of my arm and dragged me into the back room, shutting the door firmly behind us. Jac, whose head was bent over an arrangement, barely glanced up at our arrival.

It took me a moment to locate Henley on the floor, slumped against the wall with a half empty gallon of water on her lap. Her normally tan face was pale, her hair had a clammy look about it, and she was dressed in what I could only describe as “normal” clothes consisting of grey sweats and a plain, white tee.

In other words, she was deathly hungover from whatever party she’d been at last night. It was a wonder she’d managed to drag herself to work today, but I think she knew I wouldn’t be paying her this time if she didn’t show up since the store’s finances were in the dumps.

“You fool!” Arun spouted furiously, pointing a finger at me. “You complete and utter fool! What denizen of the Underworld possessed you to say yes?”

There was a clatter of metal against metal as Jac dropped a pair of scissors on the workbench and swore aggressively in Spanish.

From her position on the floor, Henley let out a guttural moan that was somewhere in between a wounded beast and the sound I made while trying to move after an indulgent Thanksgiving meal filled with third—okay, maybe fourth—helpings. She may have puked a little, but I was too frozen to check.

“What is the meaning of all this noise?” Jac demanded, narrowing her dark eyes at Arun. “Can’t you see Henley doesn’t feel well?”

Clearly, Arun hadn’t heard a single word she’d said because he was still spitting rage at me, growing progressively redder in the face as he spoke.

“Besmirching the powerful feelings of love and lust that Leonardo has for you!” he continued. “You charlatan!”

“WHAT IS GOING ON?” Jac shouted, causing both Arun and me to wince.

As Arun turned to her, his eyes grew wide at something behind her. “What is that monstrosity?” He rushed over to the complex arrangement Jac had been working on, discarding the much more important issue at hand. “These are all wrong! The crystals go over the pearls, not under. They’re transparent!”

Feeling some of the shock ebb away, I studied the stunning display blankly. Arun had come up with the design, which made use of a candelabra decorated with blooms of blush ranunculus, white hydrangeas, and pale pink sweet peas that were draped in crystals and pearls.

“It looks better this way,” Jac growled, a hand on her hip.

“No, it looks cheap!” Arun snapped, trying to mess with the arrangement. “I will not have my work interpreted in this obscene manner.”

“Too much noise,” Henley groaned from the corner, but no one took any notice, least of all me with my dreadful predicament and sinking stomach that was starting to get that hangover feeling Henley was probably acutely experiencing.

“Can someone explain what is going on?” Jac turned back to me, noticing that I hadn’t moved since I’d stepped into the room. “Why are you acting so strange, Isla?”

Scott!” I hissed hysterically, finding myself again and startling her. “He asked me to meet his mom! Like now!”

“Uh.” Jac tilted her headed to the side, scrutinizing me. “Then go?”

She said it so simply that it set off a panicked monster inside me. I think sane people called it a mental breakdown.

“No!” I cried a little too loudly, hoping Scott couldn’t hear our meltdowns. “What if I fall over or say something messed up? Or, I don’t know, throw up on her.”

From the way Jac was studying me, I was pretty sure she thought I was crazy. I mean, was I? Maybe this wasn’t a big deal and I was freaking out for no reason. After all, Scott and I had known each other for a year now. It wasn’t too weird, I guess.

“Those are all excellent points, Isla.” Arun broke away from the arrangement long enough to give me his unwanted two cents. “You’ve already fallen over enough to last you a lifetime. I think you should stay here and listen to my fantastical stories about the Ibiza Chic party.”

Ugh. That was a reason not to stay here. If I heard one more word from him about how exquisite the silver and taupe, and polyester and viscose bedding had been in the master bedroom, I really was going to murder him. Maybe with some silver and taupe, and polyester and viscose sheets.

“Too…soon,” Henley mumbled, blinking bleary eyes at me. “Even if…he is…nice.”

Even on her deathbed of hangover and nausea, of course she had something to say. Although I was pretty sure Henley hadn’t been with anyone long enough to reach the milestone of meeting their parents.

“It’s not too soon,” Jac insisted with a frown. “I have met an ex’s parents two weeks after dating.”

“Two weeks! Ludicrous!” Arun scoffed obnoxiously. “I won’t meet parents until at least three months in.”

Jac glared at him.

“Every situation is different. It doesn’t have to be a weird thing if you don’t make it a weird thing,” she told me, her expression softening. “Scott wouldn’t want you to meet her if he didn’t take your relationship seriously. I mean, isn’t that what you want? Someone you can depend on?”

That struck a chord with me because it was the main reason I kept pulling away from Leo—he was way too relaxed when it came to us. Sometimes I couldn’t figure out if we were neighbors, friends, or kissing harlots.

Scott, on the other hand, well, at least he was taking it seriously, like Jac had just said. Even though he was allergic to cats and about as interesting as a bowl of sugarless, whole grain oatmeal.

“You don’t think it’s too much too soon, do you?” I asked, chewing on my bottom lip as I mulled all this over.

“We must all move at the pace that suits us,” Jac said wisely. “It doesn’t mean any one of us is wrong.”

How very wise and inclusive of her.

“But I don’t know if my heart’s in it,” I admitted slowly. “I don’t want to send the wrong message, but I already said I’d go.”

“Then just see it through,” Jac suggested in her kind way. “And if it really doesn’t feel right then end it after today.”

There was some shuffling as Henley said, “You’ll never know unless you.” She stopped and held up a finger, swallowing down what might have been puke. “Go.”

“And what about Leo?” Arun berated me. “Are you just done with that sexy slab of marbled man meat?”

At the mention of Leo’s name, a tumult of feelings washed over me. Feelings that were red-hot and unresolved. Feelings that had my thoughts drifting back to the intense moment on the beach where I’d let myself go with him.

“There was nothing to begin with,” I finally said, although I didn’t believe myself. “And besides, I haven’t heard from him since the party.”

I tried to say this in an offhand way, but Arun honed in on it. “So, this is why you’re meeting Scott’s mother—because Leo didn’t call. Well, did you ever think to call him?” he asked scathingly.

“Well, no, but—” I stammered.

“Of course not, because that would make too much sense. Women!” There was an edge to his tone which made me wonder if this had to do with more than just Leo and me. “By all means, go and meet Scott’s mother, but don’t think for a second I support your questionable decision.” He promptly turned back to fuss over the candelabra arrangement again, muttering under his breath. “And take this obscene arrangement with you. It’s ruined!”

Jac let out a swear word in Spanish, and I grabbed the candelabra bouquet and hightailed out of there before I had to bear witness to a Jac and Arun showdown. Poor Henley had covered up her head in an effort to block out their bickering.

When I stepped back into the front of the store, Arun’s words were ringing in my ears. They’d struck a sensible chord with me. I didn’t have a good reason as to why I was still pursuing a relationship with Scott, other than to distract myself from Leo.

“What was all that noise?” Scott was leaning against the counter, concern dotting his features. “I was worried about you.”

Scrambling to get my thoughts together, I said the first thing that came to mind.

“Uh, Jac has bad indigestion,” I lied, hurrying to his side. “Awful, just awful. Her stomach is like the depths of indigestion Hell. Hasn’t pooped in days.”

And, wisely, Scott didn’t probe the subject any further.


Chapter Twenty-One

Stupid, stupid— was so stupid.

Without even using any kind of normal sense, I’d agreed to meet Scott’s mom.

Scott—who was perfectly nice, but who would probably eternally bore me to death with stories about sponges and gloves and jigsaw puzzles, and who knew—maybe collapsible umbrella stands next?

With some reluctance in my step, I followed after him along the busy Los Angeles street. As usual, the traffic was crazy for a Monday morning, and I found myself feeling grateful we were walking.

One thing I’d never been able to get used to after moving here was the incredible volume of people that managed to fit into such a small space. I’d thought a traffic jam in Kansas City was the worst thing ever, but it was nothing compared to the heart of L.A.

The warm breeze brushed against my skin, but I didn’t relish it, too consumed imaging what Scott’s mom was going to be like. Was I about to meet the nicest lady in the world? Or the meanest? Or the rudest? Or the cleanest?

Stop rhyming, stop rhyming!

What if she was one of those snobby, L.A. types with their flashy clothes and plastic faces that didn’t move? Frankly, there were too many of those types of women in this vast city for me to rule it out as a possibility.

Despite my growing trepidation, Scott seemed to be in a great mood, humming a Selena Gomez song atrociously out-of-tune with the candelabra arrangement clutched against his chest, as we made the short walk to Little French Frog.

At the same time, I was trying to convince myself that this wasn’t a big deal, that his mom was probably a really nice person, since he himself had such an amiable personality.

And yet, deep down, my biggest concern was me.

The last time I’d met a boyfriend’s parents was when I was nineteen and had barely been able to string two words together. In fact, I’d been so quiet that his parents had truly believed I was deaf and had attempted to communicate with me using sign language.

And, frankly, that situation had come about because I hadn’t really wanted to meet that guy’s parents, just like now, as I halfheartedly strolled down the crowded street with a guy I wasn’t into. I could’ve been doing much more important things, like figuring out how the heck I was going to pay off my loan or how the store was going to run without—

“Here we are,” Scott announced, breaking me out of my panicked thoughts as we stopped on the pavement outside the cute, little café. “My mom said she already got us a table.”

Although I’d passed the café many times on my way to work, I’d never stopped to eat here since French food was a little too outside my comfort zone. Give me some Midwestern BBQ with a side of coleslaw any day and I was good.

If Scott and I became serious, this is what my life would become: eating at places named after gross amphibians.

However, as Scott held the door open for me and I stepped inside, I couldn’t help but think I, with my aversion to trying new things, had been missing out.

The interior reminded me of the few instances I’d seen pictures of French cafés—actually, it was no secret that Arun’s loft had an entire wall dedicated to France. Apparently, the Deols had spent many summers there, allowing for the macaron-eating Arun to turn into a Francophile.

There were mismatched tables and chairs, some chintzy armchairs, others wooden with an intentional, weathered look about them; numerous pieces of art, that I was itching to take a look at, lined the pale yellow walls; and the wonderful smell of freshly roasted coffee beans perfumed the air.

“There she is!” Scott said, his voice full of affection as he scanned the teeming room.

Following his gaze, I caught sight of an older woman who bore such a striking resemblance to Scott that she was undoubtedly his mother.

She sat alone at a table by one of the large windows that overlooked the street, a faraway expression on her face. If not for having weirdly-dressed friends myself, I would’ve found her outfit strange—a long sleeved, murky brown, silk top dotted with blue flowers and a matching scarf tied over her head. There were numerous beaded necklaces draped over her neck and multi-colored bangles dangled from her slim wrists.

It was starting to dawn on me that this was where Scott had inherited the pattern blindness that Arun complained so much about.

Even sitting down, I could tell Scott’s mom was tall like him. They also shared the same chestnut brown hair, though hers was flecked with grey. At least she didn’t appear to be one of those snobby, L.A. types.

As we approached the table, I noticed something even stranger about Scott’s mom. A deck of cards was spread out across the white, linen tablecloth which she was fixated on. Weird.

“Hey, Mom, we made it,” Scott said with a grin.

His mom snapped out of her reverie, her protuberant, grey eyes sweeping from Scott to me. A dazed smile stretched her pleasant features across her face, as she rose to her feet. She was just as tall as I’d guessed, and made me look like a turnip that had happened to land near a giraffe.

“Hello, dear,” she greeted Scott, as he kissed her on each cheek. She paused, taking me in. “And you must be the Isla my son is always talking about. The sun beams at your arrival.” There was a dreamy quality to her voice, as though she might fall asleep at any moment.

I squinted at her just to be sure she was indeed awake, and she seemed to be—for now.

“Yes,” I said warmly, extending a hand. “Isla Matthews. It’s so nice to meet the woman that Scott came out of.” Er, wait, that wasn’t what I’d been trying to say. “I mean, the woman who his mother is.”

Whaaaat was I saying?

“Amy Duffy, pleased to meet you,” she responded, not seeming to notice my slip-up as she shook my hand.

“Duffy?” I whispered almost to myself.

“Huh?” Scott turned to me in question.

“Duffy,” I choked out in disbelief.

“Oh!” Scott exclaimed, realization hitting him. “Yeah, it’s an Irish name. My dad’s ancestors were from there.”

“You’re Scott Duffy?” I stared at him in horror.

In the year or so that I’d known Scott, I’d never bothered to learn his last name or ask for it. He’d always paid in cash so I’d never spied his credit card, and each one of our dates had been so disaster-filled that the question had simply slipped my mind.

“Yeah, why?” He cocked his head to the side in concern. “Is something wrong?”

Two words fell from my lips. “Buffy Duffy.”

It was stupid, superficial, petty even—but if Scott and I ever got married, I would be Buffy Duffy.

A shiver ran down my spine, chilling me to the bone. It was the most awful combination of names I’d ever heard. It was like the universe was screaming at me, telling me in clear terms that this relationship was not meant to be.

“Sorry?” Scott asked, his thick brows forming a line of confusion.

Unlike Leo, he hadn’t gone snooping through my mail, so he had no clue what my first name actually was.

“Um, nothing, sorry just an accident,” I said quickly, trying to cover up for my initial bad impression. “Let’s sit, why don’t we?”

Meanwhile, Mrs. Duffy appeared to have been distracted by a fly buzzing right outside the window and seemingly missed our interaction.

“Mom, these are for you from Isla’s shop,” Scott said, placing the candelabra arrangement on the table.

This snapped Mrs. Duffy out of her ponderings and she smiled absently at the flowers before resuming her seat. “Lovely, lovely. Her chakra sends out positive energy,” she said, motioning at me.

My chakra? Was that some kind of a disease? Were my lady parts about to shrivel up and turn into dust?

Sensing my confusion, Scott explained, “My mom is a very spiritual person. Your chakra is an energy point in your body.”

“Oh, right, wow,” I said, nodding with too much forced enthusiasm.

Because what else was there to do when someone analyzed your chakra, a thing you hadn’t even realized had existed up until about two seconds ago?

Mrs. Duffy spread her cards out on the table and studied them intently before gazing up at me with probing, grey eyes. “The cards tell me the time is ripe for you to join in union. Tell me, Isla, do you wish to be married?”

The blatant line of questioning threw me off. “Um, yes, one day,” I fumbled, feeling naked under her gaze. “If I find the right person. For now I’m just trying to keep my flower shop going.”

“Flowers.” Mrs. Duffy sighed dreamily as though I’d said something earth-shattering. “One of nature’s finest gifts. You know, Scott’s middle name is Rose. Such a fine name for such a pretty boy.” She beamed at him and reached out to squeeze his cheek with her talon-like nails that were painted a deep purple, like violets. Or an eggplant.

It took every ounce of willpower I possessed not to burst out laughing at the discovery of Scott’s middle name. Willpower, and the fact that my first name was just as awful. But, seriously—Rose?

“It’s actually Jarred,” Scott corrected, heat pooling in his cheeks.

“Yes, which means ‘Rose’ in Hebrew,” his mom told me, her tone musical.

Thankfully, I was saved from having to respond as the server, a petite girl with dark hair, arrived just then to hand Scott and me a menu. “What can I get you to drink today?” she asked, pulling out a notepad and pen.

Mrs. Duffy turned her bulging eyes onto the server, who seemed a little taken back. “A cup of steaming tea made from organic, GMO-free ginger with a hint of hemp milk.”

“Uh, we don’t have ginger tea or hemp milk,” the server said uncertainly. “I could do black tea with regular milk.”

“Appalling,” Mrs. Duffy said mistily. “My body rejects the lactose compound of struggle and suffering. I’ll just take a water with sliced lemon, if it’s organic and sourced from local farms.”

I had never heard of anyone refer to milk in such harsh terms. Maybe there was secretly something highly dangerous about milk that I wasn’t aware of. Or maybe Mrs. Duffy just had a few screws loose.

“Mom, you know they don’t have hemp milk here,” Scott reminded her in a pleasant tone.

Looking around at him, I noticed that he seemed completely at ease as he watched his mother, as though he knew this was the way she was and he was okay with it.

Was it possible that Scott was raised in some hippie colony where they ate sunflower seeds for breakfast and drank Kombucha tea for dessert? Maybe this was why he had such an ordinary job and personality—because his life, and mom, were anything but.

Was being boring Scott’s way of rebelling? The theory left me stunned. Maybe rebelling didn’t mean being wild or crazy or weirdly dressed; maybe a rebel could be someone with a nine-to-five job who liked to put together jigsaw puzzles in his spare time.

After jotting down Mrs. Duffy’s obscure order and taking Scott’s and mine much simpler ones of soda, the server hurried off with a harried look about her. The café was bustling at this point in the morning and appeared to be understaffed as servers flew from table to table, taking orders and ferrying food.

“That’s a lovely top you’re wearing, Isla,” Mrs. Duffy remarked, turning her dull eyes—one of the few traits she and Scott didn’t share—onto me once again. “Is the fabric cruelty-free?”

“Uh,” I said, digging my shoes into the floor. “I’m not sure.”

“My mom runs a cruelty-free clothing stall on the boardwalk,” Scott supplied just then, touching his shirt. “That’s where I get some of my clothes from. I was going to take you there on our date, but…”

Considering some of Scott’s clothes were a little too, um, unique for my tastes, all I could do was let out a sound that was somewhere between a mumble and a grunt.

Thankfully, the server returned just then with our drinks. Mrs. Duffy absentmindedly shuffled her deck of cards and laid them out on the table again. “I also read fortunes,” she informed me. “The cards are busy, always lots to say. How many children do you want, Isla? The cards tell me you will have as many as seven, and as few as four.”

My eyes widened at this news.

A few weeks ago, I’d hardly been ready to go on a date, and now this lady that I’d met barely ten minutes ago was telling me that I was going to have many children. Um, no way. Not a chance in Hell, or chakra Hell, or whatever she believed in.

I was still one great big child myself. I could barely boil water without setting my house on fire—kids were a long way away. In fact, kids were so far off in my future that they may as well be on an entirely different dimension.

Apparently, the server thought this was ridiculous and snorted under her breath before rushing off again.

“I love kids,” Scott said warmly, lacing his fingers through mine. “I can see us having a big family one day.”

My immediate reaction was to jerk my hand out of his. What in the absolute crack whore was happening here?

“Us?” I asked, an odd, tinkling laugh escaping my mouth. “Um, we have yet to go on a proper date, let alone discuss the idea of having kids.” I was very impressed with how patient I was being, because I was convinced no sane person would still be sitting here.

A flicker of hurt flashed across his face, and he glanced down at his hand. “Um, yeah, I know that, Isla. That’s why I said one day.” He lowered his voice. “Is everything okay?”

The fact that I’d just acted and sounded like a complete biznatch wasn’t lost on me. A slimy feeling slithered through me—why the heck was I being so rude and moody? Scott hadn’t exactly forced me here. I’d agreed to meet his mom, as reluctant as that decision may have been.

“Uh, sorry,” I said softly. “I just meant, I’m not ready to have kids yet. Like, it’s going to be in the distant future in a galaxy far, far away…”

I stopped, realizing I was quoting Star Wars. Fortunately, this seemed to have pacified Scott, and he managed to give me a smile, albeit a weak one.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Duffy had been staring absently at the candelabra bouquet. Feeling my gaze on her, she snapped her bulging eyes onto me, that dreamy look still on her face.

“Your love for the flowers die. Your lack of love and motivation makes them fail.”

“Excuse me?” I asked in disbelief.

I’d heard her perfectly fine, but I couldn’t believe the words had come out of her mouth.

“The spirits tell me you lack the ambition and passion to succeed,” she said, her voice holding that dream-like quality I was becoming accustomed to. “Your pride hurts the foundations they laid.”

They? Who was they? Was that a reference to my parents? Honestly, these fortune teller types all seemed to have the same vague insight on things.

Despite the lack of clarity in her words, they’d hit too close to home. Even though she seemed to have pulled this out of nowhere, whether through some mystical force or some other route, I didn’t want to be told in so many words that the flower shop failing was my fault.

“I do not lack ambition and passion,” I said stiffly.

“Isla.” Scott’s hand grazed against my arm, but once again, I pulled myself away. “My mom wasn’t trying to upset you. She just voices what her abilities tell her.” He didn’t seem offended that I’d drawn away this time. “And besides, you’ve told me the store isn’t doing well. Maybe-”

I didn’t want to hear it. Not from Scott. Not from his mother. I was doing the best damn job I could, and no one was going to tell me otherwise.

“I need to go,” I said, buzzing with a nervous energy. I scraped my chair back noisily and stood up. “Lots to do. Bouquets to make, people to trim, flowers to talk to…”

This was exactly what I’d been worried about—I wasn’t good at meeting parents, especially ones who talked about kids, and marriages, and cruelty-free hemp milk. And now that Mrs. Duffy had brought up the flower shop, I realized I could’ve been there, trying to figure out a way to fix it.

Instead, I was here, drawn into pointless conversations and a relationship that was going nowhere.

“Your chakra dims.” Mrs. Duffy’s voice grew mysterious as she watched me. “It is the signaling of-”

“I don’t have chakra!” I cried a little too loudly, drawing curious looks from the closest patrons. “I have bills, and a flower shop that sucks, and ugly net curtains!”

“Isla,” Scott started to say, aghast, but I didn’t want to hear it.

“Bye, Scott.” My eyes shot to his mother, who didn’t seem offended in the slightest. In fact, her attention had returned to more important matters, like the buzzing fly. “It was nice meeting you, Mrs. B-Duffy.”

She nodded vaguely, and I took the opportunity to grab my purse and leave, a sense of relief settling over me the further I got from Scott and his obscure mother.