Magical Midlife Madness Page 1

Author: K.F. Breene

Series: Leveling Up #1

Genres: Fantasy


This was not the fresh start I’d had in mind.

I sat in my idling car in front of my parents’ house, going over my life choices.

When the—now ex—husband had told me he was moving on and that he wanted a divorce, I was pretty sure he hadn’t expected me to exclaim, “Awesome!” I’m positive he didn’t think I’d start packing right away. And when I pouted at his “concession” that I could stay in the house until it was time to sell, I definitely confused him.

He had found someone else. Someone he had more in common with, apparently. Someone who shared the same life goals and liked to hold hands like we used to.

I’d told him that I hoped she was young, because if she was my age—tiptoeing past forty—and had any relationship experience at all, the second she learned that he liked his boxers ironed but wouldn’t do the ironing himself, she’d be gone-skies. Only uptight guys ironed their boxers, and only self-absorbed, entitled dickheads had someone else do it for them and then negatively critiqued the creases.

Our life goals had only diverged because I’d gotten tired of supporting him through all of his endeavors without being allowed to achieve anything for myself. Somewhere along the way, when I was cooking, cleaning, ironing, changing beds, changing diapers, working, doing the bills, cooking—oops, I said cooking twice—I had started to wonder when my life would begin. When I’d kick butt and take names. When I would be recognized for my merits instead of looked down upon for the untidy laundry room.

I wanted more than this provincial life.

Matt had done me a favor by cutting me loose. He’d pushed me down the first step to my freedom. With my son starting college, thereby taking away any excuse to stay, I could finally start my own adventure. Create some herstory.

I stared at my parents’ house through the car window.

My jump-off point needed a little work.

I put my ten-year-old Honda into park.

I could not believe I was doing this. At forty years old, I was moving back in with my parents in a city just north of L.A. What had I been thinking?

But I knew what I’d been thinking. I had money from the divorce, but no home, no job, and no idea where I wanted to find those things. My son didn’t want me following him to the East Coast where he was going to college—another relief because I didn’t want to spend my weekends doing his laundry—and I was tired of L.A. I needed to go somewhere new, but it wouldn’t be sensible to waste money on hotels during my time in limbo. Which was why I’d taken my mom up on her offer to crash at my childhood home for a while.

Crash? What was I, twenty?

Midlife ladies did not crash. Not unless there was a lot of wine involved and a rogue set of stairs jumped in front of her.

I climbed out slowly, surveying my parents’ mud-brown house. Nails were sticking out from the siding in places, randomly trying to flee confinement, and while the front lawn was perfectly manicured, it was surrounded by weed-choked bushes, fallen leaves, and a couple of rusty wagon wheels for decor. It couldn’t look weirder if they’d actively tried for it.

Home, sweet home.

I grabbed a couple of suitcases out of the trunk and walked to the front door, the funeral march playing in my head. An old Wagoneer Jeep and an older truck sat in the driveway, both of them mainstays of my childhood. They were still on my dad’s “projects list.” He intended to fix up the former to its past glory, which would be quite the job since the roof was cracked to hell, the wooden siding was multicolored and fading, and weeds were literally growing up out of the floorboards, and the latter would become a dump truck (just you wait!). It would get a new motor, the back would be taken off, and a dump truck bed would be installed (no problem!). There was even already a motor or ten in the garage. Stacked on the floor. With rats living in them…

The porch groaned under my weight, in dire need of some new boards. The door, once stained a deep brown with lovely stained glass, now had deep scores at the base where the last dog had made its own doorbell. Someone had painted the damage a lighter mustard-brown, not even close to matching the original mahogany hue. At least the stained glass was still lovely. There was that.

“Hello?” I asked, letting myself in the front door.

Two pairs of shiny, black-marble eyes looked at me from the deer heads mounted on each side of a painting of a deer.

The TV blared, the sound filling the living room to bursting. My dad sat on his recliner with his hand tucked into the waistband of his sweats and his chin lowered to his chest, sound asleep. Cars streamed across the screen, some Nascar race or other.

Grimacing, I edged farther into the house. I set my bags down, closed the door, and headed to the kitchen, the first place I always looked for my mother. She stood at the sink, suds covering her yellow gloves, ear buds in her ears, and her phone tucked into the back pocket of her jeans.

“Hey, Mom,” I said, raising my voice over the sound of the TV in the other room. They had a circular open floor plan, in which a wall separated the kitchen from the living/dining room combo, but there was plenty of air and sound flow between the two spaces.

“Mom!” I said, just a little louder. I knocked on the dated cream square tiles climbing the wall to my right. It didn’t help.

I walked closer as she bobbed her head to the music. She scrubbed a pan with gusto.

“Mom,” I repeated, this time tapping her shoulder.

She jumped, screamed, and let go of the pan. It clanged into the sink, throwing up a sploosh of water that covered her front. She rounded on me with wide eyes.

Not turned to me.

Not flinched from me.

Rounded on me, as though this seventy-year-old woman was about to beat the ever-lovin’ crap out of me!

“Oh, Jessie, it’s you!” A smile replaced her look of crazy. She pulled her ear buds from her ears. “How are you?”

Her hug soaked the front of my shirt, and her gloves wet my back.

“Martha, what are you doing in there?” my dad hollered. “The race is on. I can barely hear a thing!”

My mom rolled her eyes. She didn’t bother to reply.

“Let me just finish this up and I’ll show you to your room,” my mom said, gesturing at the sink.

I scanned the loaded dish dryer perched over the second sink…and the dishwasher beneath it. “You have a dishwasher, why are you doing these by hand?”

“Your father never wanted to waste the electricity on the dishwasher, remember?” She turned back to her task. “I’ve always had to do them by hand. Well, since I retired, I’ve had just about enough of chores. He barely earns any money any more, did he tell you? He doesn’t take a paycheck most of the time. I don’t know why he doesn’t retire. Anyway, we’re living off of my retirement. So I thought, you know what? If I want a machine to make my life easier, I’ve earned it.” She nodded adamantly. “But the thing was so old, it broke after the second wash.” She sighed. “So I went to Wired Right down on the square there. You know the place. With the green awning?”

She turned back to make sure I was on the same page so I nodded even though I had no idea.

“Well, I bought the very best they had,” she said. “With all the bells and whistles. Cost me an arm and a leg, but you know what? To heck with it. And he can’t say anything, because he spent all that money on that new motor. So there.”

“Right…” I leaned against the counter. “So where is it?”

“Delivers on Tuesday. Boy will I be glad to get these dishes out of my hair. Then I can go upstairs to my sewing room and shut the door. You can barely hear yourself mutter down here.”

“Cool. I can just head up to…my old room, right?”

“Just wait there. You want a beer?” She paused and drew her hands out of the soapy water, white bubbles shivering on her yellow gloves.

“Sure,” I said, because that’s what this house did. If people came over, everyone drank a beer. What else did I have to do? The future stretched wide open ahead of me. All I needed was the courage to walk into it.

With one beer down and another in my hand, I followed my mother up to my transitionary room. My dad still had no idea I was home, but all the dishes had been dried and put away.

Why I needed a guide, I did not know. I’d stayed in this house multiple times with Matt and Jimmy for the holidays, and we’d always slept in my old room. This was the first time I’d been given guidance. It made me suspicious.

We tread up the worn russet-brown carpet that had long since put up the white flag. My mother had started painting the wall beside me a turd brown, only she hadn’t finished, possibly hoping my dad would get the ladder and finish it up. The project cars out front apparently hadn’t made an impression on her. The wall looked like a crap-striped zebra, white stripes between the brown, but nobody seemed to notice or care.

Speaking of noticing or caring, the cool painting I’d given them three years ago sat in the little alcove that overlooked the living room, resting on the ground against the scuff-marked wall.

Happy anniversary, indeed.

“Mom, I know where the bedroom is,” I said as we passed the hall closet that still didn’t have doors thirty years after my dad had designed and built the house.

“Yes, I know, but I made a new quilt and want to make sure it’s okay,” she said.

“It’ll be fine, Ma, I swear—” I fell mute as we reached the room’s open doorway. A stiff-looking turquoise and brown quilt rested on the double bed in the midst of a sea of books. “That’s…lovely. What’s the story with all these books?”

“You think so?” She beamed, heading into the room and pulling up the corner of the quilt. It moved like thin plywood. “I took up quilting. That sewing room is the only place I can get out of the heat!”

I glanced at the open windows, letting in the chill fall air. “Oh yeah?”

“Yes! Your father is so fat, you’d think he’d be insulated enough, but still the house is a furnace.” She huffed. “I found some patterns for quilts at the fabric store. I made them extra warm.”