Magical Midlife Misadventures book 1
“If its got tires or testicles, its gonna give you grief. That’s why I always neuter the dogs.”
-Notable quotable from Grammy B
“Joey, you’re fired.”
I stared over the paper-strewn desk to where my employer—now ex-employer—Rodney Carmichael squatted like a homely little toad. Surely, I had misheard what he just said.
“If this is about the plates that I broke last week, I told you I would pay for them.” I pasted a smile on my face and tried to look like the epitome of an excellent waitress. “It was an accident.”
Because my bad wrist had locked up at precisely the wrong moment when I had been transferring the stack of plates from the dishwasher to the service line. The crash heard ‘round the mountain. As was the nature of small Southern towns, my mother heard about it before my shift ended.
Rodney removed his glasses and polished them with the tail of his untucked shirt. “It isn’t just that. You’re always late—”
“My car got impounded. I had to use my mother’s and it wouldn’t start.”
He sighed, effectively shutting off my protests. “And I’ve had complaints that you were rude to customers.”
“They were jerks! They left me a twenty-seven-cent tip on a forty dollar bill!” And one of the boneheads had swatted me on the ass. Twice.
Rodney put his glasses down and just looked at me. Outside birds twittered in the trees, a promise of spring that was still a month and a half away. In the kitchen, I heard Steve say something to Amanda. The scent of homemade chili filled the space. Steve’s chili was a local treasure, especially on a brisk winter day. I’d been looking forward to having it for lunch but my stomach had morphed into a ball of ice.
“Can I at least finish my shift?” I needed those flimsy tips if I ever wanted to see my beloved VW bug again.
Rodney shook his head and sighed as though he didn’t have a choice and he was the misaligned party. “Greta is coming in to cover for you. Joey, I’m sorry. We gave it a shot. It just didn’t work out.”
I put up a hand. He could feign sympathy all he liked but that wouldn’t change my reality.
That Joey Whitmore had been fired from yet another job.
Rodney handed me an envelope. “I wish you luck.”
“Luck, right,” I snorted. But I took the envelope. Pride wasn’t a luxury I could afford.
Slowly, I rose to my feet and shuffled out of the office and into the hall closet where I’d stashed my purse, coat, and umbrella not even ten minutes ago. The mirror on the door presented me with my reflection. Gray roots showing about two inches long against my dark brown mop of hair because I hadn’t had time to grab dye from the pharmacy. Crow’s feet around my blue eyes. A big bump on my nose from where it had been broken at the same time as my wrist. A mouth that had forgotten how to smile. Sagging D cups, a midsection that looked like rising bread dough, and stretched the scoop neck t-shirt with the restaurant’s logo. I felt a hundred years old, not the smidge past forty that I was.
Could humans age in dog years?
“Look at the bright side,” I said then tried to find one. Nothing came to mind. “You can legally drink?”
There. Bright side. Nailed it.
I glanced back toward the kitchen where Amanda and Steve were busy with prep for the lunch rush. The factory across the road would be emptying out in fifteen minutes. All the hungry recycling workers would descend on the diner, which was little more than a greasy spoon for chili cheese dogs and pie to clog their arteries before returning to saving the planet one pickle jar at a time.
Not wanting to see their pity, I decided not to draw out a goodbye. I’d only worked at the place for three weeks. We weren’t exactly lifelong chums.
After stuffing the envelope inside my coat pocket, I pushed out of the rear door to the small battered deck and down the three steps that led to the gravel parking lot. I didn’t look back at the diner, didn’t want to see the patrons eating in the big picture window. Happy people who would head home or back to work, who had lives that were moving steadily forward.
Mine seemed to be on a broken conveyer belt that no one made parts for anymore. Back home to mom’s house with the unwelcome news that her divorced and damaged daughter would be crashing with her for another few months.
A chill that had nothing to do with the January mountain wind rolled through me at the thought of that conversation.
I unlocked the driver’s side door to mom’s ancient Buick, dropped my bag on the passenger’s seat, and then inserted the key and turned.
Nothing. Not even any spluttering to indicate that the primeval engine was at least giving it the ‘ol college try. I huffed out a breath and then gave it another go. Nada. Zip. Zilch.
I let loose on a string of cuss words that would make a sailor blush and pounded on the steering wheel hard enough to bruise my hand. My bad wrist sang out at the abuse and I slumped forward. Utterly defeated.
My luck. My shitty shitty luck had struck yet again.
Someone rapped on my window and I glanced up, startled.
Bright blue eyes stared down at me from a stranger’s face. He wore battered jeans and a black and white checked flannel coat with a heavy lining to combat the winter chill. No hat or gloves. He must be a native. Odd that I had never seen him before. Our mountain town was tiny and I’d lived here all my life.
His expression read as concerned, though there lurked a twinkle of mischief in those eyes. He made a motion to indicate that I should roll down the car window. After a moment’s hesitation, I did.
“Are you all right?” He spoke with a distinctly Welsh accent.
I started to laugh. One of those I’m coming unhinged sorts of sounds. I could only imagine what I looked like to him.
If I’d been Mr. Blue-eyes, I would have slowly backed away before turning tail and running for the nearest door in case the hysterical Buick driver went full-on looney tunes in the parking lot. But he simply waited for me to simmer down and respond like a human being.
I wiped away the tears along with a good portion of my eyeliner with the sleeve of my coat. “No, actually. I’m having a really terrible day and now my car won’t start.”
“Do you need me to call a tow truck?” the stranger offered.
I shook my head. “Not yet.”
He dug around in his coat. “If you need a phone—”
But I held up a hand and tried to explain. “It isn’t that. My ex owns the only tow truck in town.”
“Ah, sorry to hear that.” He flashed me a dazzling white smile that held a hint of something predatory. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“You don’t have the power to go back in time, do you?” I glowered at my wrist.
Instead of giving me the odd look my comment warranted, he crouched down beside the car. “And what if I did? Where would you go if you could travel through time?”
I leaned my head back against the seat. “October 3, 1996.”
He quirked a brow. “That’s…oddly specific.”
“It’s the day that changed my whole life.” For the worse.
“Robin?” A twenty-something woman with perfect platinum blonde hair that hung midway down her back called.
I eyeballed the woman and then the guy crouched beside me. “She’s a little young for you, isn’t she?”
He tilted his head to the side. “You have no idea. But, it’s not like that. I’m doing some work for her.”
I held up a hand. “Then I really don’t want to hear about it.”
He laughed and then got back up, fished in his back pocket, and handed me a card. Robin Goodfellow, it read. That was all, just his name. Huh, why did that sound familiar? I was positive I hadn’t seen him before. He was worth remembering.
The corner of his mouth hiked up and he nodded to the card. “That’s good for three wishes if we can strike a deal.”
I snorted, “You’re a comedian.”
His grin was infectious. “No, a fae prince. You ever want to bargain, give me a shout.”
I watched him back away before my mind could comprehend another question.
He gave me a two-fingered salute and then escorted the blonde into the restaurant.
“What the hell was that?” I grumbled and then dialed the dreaded ex.
When I’d told Robin Goodfellow that my ex drove the only tow truck in town, he probably hadn’t pictured the elegantly dressed person sitting beside me.
Red nails tipped with gold sunbursts tapped against the steering wheel. “How have you been, Joey?”
I raised an eyebrow that was nowhere near as sculpted as my companion’s. “Fine. And you…Georgia?”
Georgia—who had once been George, the human being who had promised to love, honor, and cherish me ‘til death us do part, shrugged easily. As though this situation wasn’t awkward as all get-out. “Can’t complain. How’s your mom?”
“Good. She’s taken up sculpting.” I didn’t mention that all of mom’s creations looked like penises. Not intentionally, I was sure. Mom was a dyed-in-the-wool feminist who had recently decided to express her creativity. I wasn’t entirely sure that she had much creativity to express, hence the phallus factory. But it still seemed insensitive somehow to bring that up to Georgia.
“Sculpting. Huh. Wouldn’t have thought that was her passion.” The tow truck turned onto the gravel hill that dead-ended at my mother’s Victorian.
“Mostly her passion is reserved for Wine Wednesdays.”
“I hear that.” Georgia laughed and I had to look away because it was so similar and yet so different from George’s husky chuckle.
“I’ve missed hanging out with you, Joey.” Georgia parked and then turned to face me. “Maybe we could get together some time?”
“Sure,” I said but didn’t mean it. We both knew it, too. I didn’t want to hang out with Georgia, mostly because being with her reminded me of George. Who she wasn’t. Not anymore. It was weird, like being a widow, even though my ex still lived and breathed and was kind to me and had better eyebrows. Better boobs too, because they would never fall down around her naval. I was happy for Georgia and a little bit in awe of her for fighting so hard to find her happiness.
Even if our marriage was collateral damage.
But all the dreams I had of us living happily ever after had gone up in a puff of smoke. And being with her reminded me how foolishly naïve I had been. It was one thing to support transmen and transwomen. Right was right. Yet the part no one talked about was the discarded life that he or she had outgrown and slithered away from like an old snakeskin. That’s how I felt when I was with Georgia—dry, brittle, and left on the side of the road to flake away to nothing.
And on that pleasant thought, I decided to make a graceful exit by popping the door and pasting on a faux pleasant smile. “How much do I owe you?”
Georgia waved it off. “No worries, Joey. I’ve got your back.”
My smile turned genuine. “Thanks for that. I’ll see you around.”
No avoiding it in a mountain town the size of a flea circus. I wish I could afford to move. Then again, where would I go?
Slithering down to the curb, I picked my way past patches of melting snow, only turning to watch the tow truck and my mother’s car disappear around the bend in the road. I strode up to the crumbling Victorian which had been my home since birth.
It, like me, had seen better days. The porch was starting to sag, the paint on the white gingerbread trim was peeling and most of the seals had failed in the stained-glass windows. Dented and dinged, it had always been there for me in my hour of need, a constant in a life full of variables.
I picked my way across the cracked and icy concrete and clomped up the steps, dislodging residual snow from my boots. The door was unlocked, which was usual during the days. In summer when the humidity hung in the air the door would be wide open, the battered screen pulled across to let in whatever breeze the mountain saw fit to give us.
After hanging my coat and shoulder bag on the coatrack that stood in a nook by the foot of the curving stairwell, I traipsed down past the living room and kitchen and around the corner to what had once been the conservatory. The door to mom’s art studio was closed, the glass blocks long ago painted an opaque crimson. Music spilled from the speakers. Franky Valli singing about how he couldn’t take his eyes off some random broad who was just too good to be true. I shook my head and headed into the kitchen where the coffee pot never actually went off to grab myself a mug of comfort.
My favorite mug from the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta was in the dishwasher. I surveyed the other options and then decided that none would suffice. Not when I’d been fired and had to figure out some way to pay for mom’s car repair.
Clean mug in hand, I filled the bugger to the tippy top, leaving just enough room for half and half and sugar. A survey of the fridge informed me that there was no half and half. No milk either. Both cartons stuck tauntingly from the trash proving that the house was lactose deficient.
Finally, I added a healthy—or rather unhealthy—dollop of French vanilla ice cream to the mug. About as close as I was going to get to a Starbucks anytime soon.
Coffee-cream in hand, I sat down to consider my financial situation. Maybe I could sell an organ on the black market. My liver was too pickled to be of value. Perhaps a kidney. Could you still drink coffee with only one kidney?
Frankie transitioned into Carol King’s “It’s Too Late,” and then the Beach Boys, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” before the studio door opened and my mother breezed out.
No paint and clay smudged blue jeans for Prudence Whitmore. She wore a blue twinset over charcoal slacks and her shoulder length gray hair was twisted up in an elegant top knot. She sailed into the room and then blinked when she saw me at the table. “Joey? Didn’t you have a shift today?”
I let out a sigh. “About that….” The words stuck in my throat.
No words were necessary. She shook her head and moved to the coffee pot. “You’re too old for this pity party, Josephine Louise Whitmore.”
I wanted to roll my eyes at her use of my full name but was afraid that I would only prove her point. “It’s not like I was trying to get fired, Mom.”
She put her hands on her narrow hips in her classic lecturing pose. “You know what your problem is?”
I nodded. “Yes, I am a forty-one-year-old divorcee with a bum wrist and no money.”
She waved my injury away like it was inconsequential. “These jobs are beneath you. I keep telling you to go back to school. Get a degree, start your own business.”
Like it was that simple. Of course, to her, it was. For forty years, my mother had been the driving force behind the high country’s tourism trade. Prudence Whitmore was a force of nature. A people person. A doer. Wherever she went, she made things happen.
“Doing what, Mom? I’m not like you. I don’t have any hidden talents or unfulfilled passions. What you see is what you get.”
She turned to face the snow-covered back garden. “I don’t know where I went wrong with you. You used to have so much self-confidence. You believed in yourself. Didn’t I always tell you that you could do anything?”
I pressed my lips together. Really, what was there to say? Here I sat in my mother’s kitchen, a giant midlife disappointment.
Turning away from the window, she reached for her mug and belted back the dregs of her coffee like she was doing a tequila shooter. “Well anyway, I need to get going. Paul’s taking me to dinner.”
This time the eye roll couldn’t be avoided. “You can just refer to him as Dad, Mom.”
She sniffed. “We don’t define ourselves by our relationship to you, Joey. We are autonomous human beings.”
It was an old argument. My parents didn’t believe in labels. Or marriage. Or living together. Though they still got together three or four times a week to go to dinner— which was also code for sex. I shuddered. No matter how unconventional their relationship, I didn’t want to envision my mom and dad making the beast with two backs.
“Anyway, I have a hair appointment. I was going to call Louisa to drive me into town but since you’re back, I won’t bother. Car’s all gassed up I presume?”
I scrunched up my nose, having forgotten about the car. “Yeah, that’s the other thing.”
Fifteen minutes later, I watched from the octagonal window in my bedroom as Louisa’s red pick-up truck put-putted up to the curb and my mother climbed inside. With her went the heavy cloud of disappointment that her middle-aged daughter couldn’t get her act together. I took a deep breath for the first time since walking through the door.
My eyes slid shut and I was tempted to snuggle up on my window seat the way I had as a little girl in desperate need of comfort. The chenille cushions and padded bolster pillows were comfier than anything on my brass bed and the bench was long enough for my five-foot four-inch frame to curl in the fetal position. Instead, I turned away and retrieved my laptop before resettling myself in the window seat, tucking a bolster pillow behind my back for lumbar support. I was determined to find a job before my mother got home. Any job. I was past the point in life where I could afford to be picky.
Sadly, the want ads in the Blue Mountain Times weren’t much more promising than they had been the last time I picked through them. To my dismay, I saw the listing was already up for my waitressing shift at the diner. Rodney the Toad wasn’t wasting any time seeking my replacement.
I scrolled down through the listings, many of which were seasonal and wouldn’t start back up until spring. All of the nearby ski resorts were full up and things like ziplining and rafting were definitely warm weather-based. Plus, with my bum wrist, it wasn’t like I could tackle anything uber physical.
Story of my life.
Irritated, I snapped the laptop shut and stared out the window, massaging the ache in my wrist more out of habit than any real pain. My mother was right. At my age, not knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up was just plain sad.
Maybe because the one thing I had truly wanted to be had been taken away from me at sixteen. My gaze fell on the 1st place ribbons, the trophies and newspaper clippings on the built-in bookcase across the way. Artistic gymnastics, first place. Six years running. A photo of me in midair, doing a back handspring off the balance beam. The headline read—Local gymnast is heading for Olympic glory.
It had been more than hope though. It had been my whole life for as long as I could remember. Fate might as well have minced up to me, cracked her gum in my face, and said, “Sorry, Joey. No gold medal for you. How about a lifetime of scraping by instead?” I’d been groping for a purpose ever since.
My cell chirped, alerting me to a new text message. I dug it out of my pocket and looked down at the screen. It was from my bestie, Darcy Abrams. Call me when you have a sec.
I hit the green phone icon and held the device to my ear.
“No,” Darcy barked in place of a greeting. “Parker Abrams, you take that pincushion out of your mouth this instant.”
Darcy was the quintessential stay-at-home-mom with a side hustle. She was a whiz with a sewing machine and had translated her skills into creating custom outfits for dogs themed after book characters. Mr. Darcy for Dachshunds. Gandolf for Great Danes. Sherlock Holmes for Shih Tzus. It seemed like a real niche market to me but her Etsy store was going gang-busters.
The internet was a weird place.
Her home life was something of a disaster though, what with five boys under the age of ten, all of whom were home on a snow day. Between feeding, bathing, and keeping her kids alive and orders that needed to be made and shipped, my friend had a full and boisterous life. Sometimes I filled in watching the rugrats so she could fill her orders promptly.
“Joey, aren’t you supposed to be at work?” Darcy asked when she finally refocused on the phone.
“Rodney let me go.”
She made a sympathetic sound. “Margarita Monday?”
“Can you get away?” I asked as something on her end crashed.
“My mother-in-law is staying with us through next week,” Darcy said through clenched teeth. “Mike owes me and I plan to take it out of him in girl-time.”
“Sounds like a plan. Mom’s going out. I’ve got the salt and limes if you bring the tequila.”
“Can’t wait. I need to get out of this zoo for a spell before I lose my ever-loving mind. No, Dylan! Take that back into the kitchen this minute!”
There was another crash and then Darcy sighed, “Joey, I’ve got to go. See you at seven.”
“Looking forward to it,” I said and then hung up.
Damn it, if Darcy could deal with that circus and make a buck there had to be some job that I could swing. I was a free agent and could come and go as I pleased.
With my resolve back in place, I opened the laptop and continued reading the want ads. I paused on an unusual one that I must have overlooked at first glance.
Assistant wanted immediately. Reliable person needed to help out with life coaching. Some nights and weekends. No experience necessary.
Life coaching. Huh. Didn’t think that was something that would be lucrative around these parts. Then again, some weekenders and tourists might require such a thing. Last year we’d gotten our first Starbucks. They’d fired me already. So, I would probably be fetching coffee and sending emails for the life coach specialist.
I frowned at my bum wrist. Hopefully, there wouldn’t be too much typing. I could handle a few emails and social media, but day-long typing wouldn’t work.
After one more quick search through the listings, I decided that the assistant to the life coach was my best bet and dialed the number listed.
An automated message answered. Hello. If you are interested in the assistant job, please come to 676 Firefly Lane to apply in person. Thank you.
I raised a brow. Firefly Lane was a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. This job was sounding stranger and stranger.
What the hell. Even if the job didn’t pan out, at least it was still Margarita Monday.
"Best Paranormal Women's Fiction!"
-Brown haired beauty, Amazon Reviewer
★★★★★ "This book deserves an Olympic gold medal!"
-Nadine, Bookbub Reviewer
"This is such a fun read."
Greerjuniper, Bookbub Reviewer
★★★★★"Jennifer L. Hart's series is one of my highlights in this genre and I'm looking forward to read more of her books." -Goodreads Reviewer,
"...enchanted with the first chapter."
-Annalisa, Amazon Reviewer
★★★★★ "5.0 out of 5 stars A fun ‘back-in-time’ read!"
- mbnickell631, Bookbub reviewer
"...funny and delightful."
Elisa, Goodreads Reviewer
★★★★★"what’s not to love about a “cozy” fantasy!"
-Linda L. Oliphant, Amazon reader
"IMHO, one of the best books of my year. Highly recommended"
–Andrea, Amazon Reviewer