BOOK THREE--c'mon you guys. .

And then you tell me. Guess the author's color--gender, too, if you want. And what about those characters? No fair cheating -- no googling, no telling if you've read the book already.

Rachel, far too cheerful, yelled, “Swim starts today, Aunt Janey. Hey, get up! It’s already 5:15.”

Janey pushed off the quilt and groaned when her bare feet touched the cold linoleum floor. She scraped her hair from her eyes and squinted toward her niece. “See? I’m up. Now begone, you misbegotten crook-limbed toad. I gotta get dressed. Five minutes. Less, I swear.”

“I know you were working late, so I’ll just wait here.”
No point in protesting when young Rachel got that tone.

When Janey found out she had her 14-year-old niece full time, her friends with kids all gave her the same piece of advice: Pick your fights.
This was not one of them.

She yawned and staggered to her dresser while Rachel watched from the doorway. Janey’s feet still ached from standing around for hours the night before.

She rummaged through the drawers. Damn. Today was laundry day. To be perfectly accurate, two days ago was laundry day. She yanked on sweat pants with holes in both knees. Her slumbering sheep pajama top would have to do as a shirt. She found the pair of ho-ho-ho Christmas socks and finished off the outfit with her red clogs.

Smiling at Rachel she said, “Okay, lead me to the car and I’ll be fine.”

Rachel eyed her. “I don’t know if I’d describe you as fine, but Coach says if we’re late the first day we’ll have to do an extra twenty laps.” She held out the Porky the Pig travel mug. “Here. I even made you a cup of coffee.”

Bless the child’s heart. So what if Rachel’s idea of coffee was slightly brown warm water? Janey kissed her niece’s petal-soft round cheek, and took the cup.

Rachel fished around in her swim bag [description of physical stuff].

“Okay, sweetiepie? Am I fit to be seen in your presence?”
“Well, okay, Janey. But listen, you still look kinda demented.”
“Pick your fights.“ Janey muttered her mantra.

In the battered old Toyota, Janey hummed a tune. Damn. Gilbert and Sullivan again.
Rachel, that overachiever, had signed up for another special interest: a Gilbert and Sullivan group. They were doing some show about pirates, but Rachel had borrowed every CD of every other operetta from the library. Janey had nothing in particular against Gilbert or Sullivan except that their tunes stuck like peanut butter. The one about the modern major general currently jammed her brain circuits.

As she drove, she glanced at West Farmbrook, Connecticut’s architecture, genuine New England houses jammed up against their neighbors, a showy and strange mix of McMansions. She enjoyed the hodge-podge of centuries and countries. An Italian villa stood next to an English half-timber which was next to a hacienda which was cheek-by-jowl with a pseudo-castle.

At night the houses were lit from below with floodlights as if they were monuments. A display of weird turn-of-twenty-first century taste. The lights were off now and Janey admired the first beams of the early autumn sun.

Next to her, Rachel sang quietly. Janey grinned at her. By the time they pulled into the parking lot of the indoor pool, both of them were belting out, “I’ve information vegetable, animal and mineral.”

“Honey, remind me to bring a Walkman and maybe some Wu-Tang tomorrow.” Janey waved to Rachel and, with a yawn, staggered over to the grandstands for a nap.

She’d gotten less than three hours of sleep the night before. Beth had promised the catering stint would end by eleven, but the woman had been desperate and would have promised anything to lure Janey into serving for her.

Janey suppressed another yawn and once again thanked her lucky stars she had declined Beth’s occasional offers to become a business partner.

As she flopped down on the aluminum grandstand, Janey took a covert sniff at her forearm. She could smell the flambed bananas she’d helped prepare -- what a dumb idea for such a big crowd.

She could also still smell the cheap white wine she’d poured down her front and her hands as she’d frantically filled the little plastic cups. A thirsty bunch at last night’s event. She pulled off her leather biker jacket, actually her ex-boyfriend’s jacket, folded it into a haphazard pillow and lay down on the bleachers humming, “I’m called Little Buttercup.”

Two more hours of rest and then she’d haul Rachel to school, take a shower, and get herself to the temp agency. And fend off calls from Beth for at least two days. Janey needed the rest, and that night she needed to get to the laundromat. The temp agency tended to frown on its workers heading out to office jobs in flannel pj tops.

She gave one more huge, audible yawn, sucking in the warm, humid pool-scented air, and fell back asleep.


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