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Tropical Leaves

Liar, Liar, You Are Hired Sample

Chapter 1

I’m single. Single as can be. I wasn’t two days ago. My boyfriend of two years broke it off because he didn’t want to leave New York with me to live in North Dakota. There might have been a few other factors as well. My nerves are as knotted as an old string of Christmas lights packed away in the attic of the Dakota Prairie Rose Inn where I grew up. 

The holiday season is supposed to be the happiest time of year, and under normal circumstances, it brings me the warmth of joy. Not now. My 25th birthday is on Christmas, which is two and a half months away. Yes, I’ve been counting down the days, not with the giddy excitement of a child. A ball of anxious energy runs through my nerves like a mini hamster on steroids. Why, you ask? Because despite living in the 21st century, my dear Great-Auntie Gertrude, or “Gerti,” as I call her, is stuck in a different era with a strict family tradition⸺a stipulation of sorts. I must be engaged by my 25th birthday to inherit the family’s inn. That’s when Gerti will retire to travel. I can’t disappoint her and leave the inn with another cousin who’s been trying to grasp onto the inn with her icy fingers. The inn is mine. 

 

How’s this all possible when you are single, you ask? I don’t know . . . that’s what I’m still trying to figure out. At least when I could call Paul my boyfriend, I wasn’t so desperately single. And I don’t say this because I believe I need a man to solve all my issues because I worked hard to get where I am today⸺a Hospitality Manager at the Ritz Apartments. I can do hard things without a man. If only Paul could have come through for me. I would have at least been able to show Gerti we are a serious couple. That’s the other lie I told her . . . I sorta told her I’d be showing up with my fiancé. It slipped from my mouth. I don’t know why? Paul and I weren’t engaged. I regretted the lie the moment I told her. Paul also didn’t like it, and he freaked out. He was already mad at me for working too much. He always told me I never set aside time for him. It might have been partially true. All in all, I scared him away. I have a habit of doing that. Of course, this all made me mad, but it didn’t hurt as much as my first breakup.

Pans and utensils crash in the kitchen. It brings me out of my thoughts as I sit on my bed in the empty room I called home for the last six years. The previous night was the last time I slept in this bed. I’d never gotten around to decorating the walls. I meant to –  work consumed my thoughts in and out of the office. Maybe Paul had a point that I was always working. My roomie, Carly, is the complete opposite of me. Her room is decorated in splashes of color. Pictures of family, friends, and places she’s traveled are strung like garlands across the walls. I wish I could be more like her, but my perfectionism got in the way every time. I roll my second suitcase toward the door, where my other one rests. 

I’d packed almost everything. Only have a few items left to add ⸺just my toiletries, my favorite planner, and my hairdryer. In the past few months, I cut down on a lot of my things. I donated clothing and books I hadn’t used for awhile. I got rid of the things I couldn’t bring with me. 

My phone beeps from a text. I grab it off the bedside table. One new message. Nick. My pulse picks up, and my insides vibrate with excitement. I open the message.

Nick: Good Morning, Addison! When’s your flight? I bet you’re excited to leave New York. 

I typed back: Yes, I am excited to be going back to Story Brandt. Don’t get me wrong⸺I enjoyed it here, but the North Dakota prairie is calling me back again. I fly out later today!

A bitter smell wafts into my room, distracting me. Something is burning. I wrinkle my nose and press send. I walk into the living room, which is engulfed in a cloud of smoke. Carly is pulling a muffin pan out of the oven. She fans one of her hands over it to shoo the smoke away. She drops a silver mixing bowl into the sink. It clatters. If I wasn’t awake, I am now. A string of colorful paper lanterns hang from the doorway leading into the hallway. Carly had been in a decorating frenzy since getting back from South Korea at the beginning of the month. 

“Oh no, did I wake you up?” Carly covers her mouth with her hand. 

“No, you didn’t. I’m up, pretty much finished packing.” 

 

“Glad you’re almost done. It’s a big job. I have some muffins cooling off. Thought you’d like some!” She scoops out a burnt muffin and throws it in the garbage.“

 

“Are they edible?” I ask.

Carly purses her lips and looks at me with narrowed eyes as she continues to scoop more out of the muffin tin and throws them away. I hold my hands up and giggle. She throws another one away, and it thuds as it hits the bottom of the garbage bin. We both laugh.

 

“Not trying to be mean. The kitchen is smokey, and you’re throwing half of them away.”

 

“I know . . . I know . . . Just giving ya’ a hard time,” she says. “I have some that turned out.” She pulls a plate of non-burnt blueberry muffins that look quite good.

 

“Ooh, those do look good.” I grab a muffin off the plate and set it on a napkin.

 

“I wouldn’t serve a burnt one to my best friend.” Carly laughs, shaking her head. “Were you able to fit everything in your bags?” 

 

I sit down on a barstool at the kitchen counter, separating the kitchen from the living room. The muffin smells delicious. I pull a piece off and pop it into my mouth.

 

“Just have to stuff the last few things in⸺like my hairdryer.”

 

“You and that hair dryer.” Carly rolls her eyes. “Don’t they have stores in North Dakota that you can go shopping at? You know, to get a new one?”

 

“Yes . . . but I like my Dyson. I don’t want to get some ho-hum hair dryer from Walmart.”

 

“Point taken,” Carly pours new blueberry muffin batter into the greased muffin pan, “Doesn’t North Dakota have a bunch of cowboy stores? I’m amazed they have a Walmart too?” she says, trying to hide her laughter. 

 

“Yes, I’ve seen the cowboy stores with leather jackets and cowboy boots. They’re usually in the malls,” I say. 

 

“What? That’s not a thing, is it?” Carly sets down her batter bowl. Her mouth drops open. The blueberry muffin’s butteriness melts in my mouth. 

 

“Nope. It’s a thing. Not my style but some of those cowgirl boots are pretty fashionable with studs, sparkles, and colored embroidery. Some brides wear them with their wedding dresses.”

 

“What? No . . . ”

 

“Yes.” I laugh. Carly’s face looks like I stole her favorite pair of shoes.

 

“And let me guess, the guys wear cowboy hats.” She rolls her eyes.

 

“Well . . . ”

 

“On second thought, don’t  answer that. I already know the answer.”

 

“Yep, you guessed right. Oh, what’s wrong with a cowboy though?” I wink at her and grab another blueberry muffin. I know I shouldn’t because I’m trying to lose a couple pounds instead of gain a few, but I can’t help it. I pull it apart. Heat rises from the spongy cake. Baked goods have a way of embracing me like a hug.

 

“I’ll stick to my Jimmy Choos and guys that wear ties instead. Anywho, how are you enjoying the blueberry muffins? See? A few didn’t burn.”

 

“I love these,” I look at the steamer on the counter. Carly rubs her arm across her brow, dragging a line of flour across her forehead. “What else are you making?”

 

“I’m just trying to finish these songpyeon.”

 

“Song-what?” 

 

“Songpyeon is a specialty that Koreans have for Chuseok, which is like our American Thanksgiving. It’s kind of like a muffin. Looks nothing like one. It’s made with rice. It’s my grandma’s recipe. She even gave me her steamer.” She points at it. “Grandma gave me the paper lanterns too. She wants pictures of it all.” She picks up a ball of rice dough and drops it on the counter. Clunk. It sounds hard, “Well, those are not getting their photographs taken.” She opens the basket from under the bar before throwing them away. They also make a thud sound when they land in the trash bin.

 

“I’m throwing more away than I’m keeping. I’m an awful baker.”

 

“Nah, don’t say that.” I point at the muffin I’m finishing, “This one turned out.”

 

“Thanks. It happens once in a while. I left these uncovered too long and they dried up fast,” she says. “Apparently, I won't make a good housewife if I can't make a perfect Songpyeon, according to my grandma."

 

“I bet some will turn out,” I say. Carly rolls rice dough into a sticky ball.

 

“I hope this next batch turns out.” She points at the steamer. “I decorated them with little white flowers made from the rice dough.”

 

“That’s cool! I have to try one when you’re done. What do they taste like inside?”

 

“They have a bean and honey filling,” she says.

 

“Interesting. I can’t wait.”

 

“So, how are you doing with the whole Paul thing? Everything all right? I know you’re worried about the inn issue, right?”

 

Worrying is a huge understatement. The nerves inside me have grown nerves of their own, and I’m sure I’ll give myself an ulcer before Christmas. Not the kind of gift anyone wants. Carly loves diving deep into the heart of the matter when it comes to painful conversations. Maybe that’s what makes her a great licensed psychologist. 

 

“Oh Carly, I’m not paying you to be my shrink.” 

 

“I know. I just care about you.”

 

“I’m doing all right . . . ” I pause, “I mean, I’ve had it worse after a breakup.”

 

“Yes, with that little boy in your hometown. Nick, right?” 

 

When she said his name, his arctic blue eyes, charming dimples, and shaggy brown hair appeared in my mind. We were teenagers when we fell in love.

 

“Yup, he’s not so little now. Nick broke my heart.” The whole thing with Paul seemed like a badly shot remake of how Nick and I broke up. If I could compare the two major breakups in my life⸺ Nick’s was far worse than my breakup with Paul’s. I had a few boyfriends in between them, but none of them were as serious. About a year ago, Nick and I reconnected, and now we chat by text a couple times a week, which is nice.

 

“I’m mad that Paul couldn’t just agree to act like we were engaged for one week. And then he could fly back to New York. I told him he didn’t have to stay there the whole time and could visit me again later. The whole thing repelled him like an awful bug spray. I can’t help it that I need to start my training to take over at the inn.”

 

“What about Nick? He still lives there, right?” Carly turns to check on the steamer. Her hair sticks out the top of her messy bun like a fountain.

 

“He does.”

 

“Well, what if you ask him? To . . .  you know? I mean, you had feelings for each other once? Maybe you could reignite the sparks?” she says. Carly always means well. Over the past six years, we’d learned to read each other’s minds. Sometimes I wish she’d listen to me instead of giving me advice. Oh well.

 

“I could. I don’t know . . . Maybe I could?” I shrug. “He has two kids⸺ a boy who is three and a girl who is five. After I left Story Brandt, Nick met someone and got married. After having the boy, his wife left them.”

 

“What a sucky mom.” Carly shakes her head. She lifts the Songpyeon out of the steamer with tongs and sets them on a plate. The little crescent-shaped baked goods were unlike anything I’d seen before. 

 

“Looks like you’ll make a great housewife. They turned out. Sort of resembles pretty dumplings.” It’s the perfect moment to change the conversation away from the hardest part of my life right now. The fact that I need a fiancé.

 

“Good. I’ll be able to photograph these. And I also have to deliver some to grandma’s friend, Kiki, in Queens later. I’ll do that after your flight.”

 

“Well, at least she’ll be able to put a good word in for you?” I say.

She nods.

 

“You have the coolest traditions, Carly.” 

 

“That's because you’ve never experienced this before. Don’t you guys have fun family traditions at the inn? There are things I’ve never experienced too, that I find unique.”

 

“Nothing quite as interesting as all this.” I pointed from the decorations to the rice dough cookie muffin things. I couldn’t say songpyeon right⸺It comes out wrong.

 

“I’m sure you do,” she says.

 

“The lanterns make me remember one tradition we have with mistletoe.”

 

“I know that tradition. Putting it up under a door to sneak a kiss with someone?” She leans against her elbows on the counter. 

 

“It isn’t quite that simple,” I say with a smile. “My Great-Uncle Bert would fill the entire ceiling with the branchlike plants.” He’d stand on a stool to affix them to the ceiling. 

 

“You don’t mean the entire ceiling?”

 

“Yep, the mistletoe looked like streamers at a surprise birthday party hanging in the lobby and the fireside room. People call it Mistletoe Inn around the holidays. That’s not its real name. The tradition sort of gave it a special name for the Christmas season.”

 

“That’s unique.”

The first moment he mentioned the idea to Gerti and I, we were sitting at the dining room table, and he bounced with excitement. 

 

“Yes . . . When he was alive, he’d read random statistics, and one of those changed the course of our family traditions. He’d always find stats about facts and figures. Sometimes they were interesting and other times⸺not so much. Randomly he found this one under a tea cap. Every year it seemed like they put the mistletoe out earlier.”

 

“What stat?” 

 

“He found that in an average person’s lifetime, they spend about a week kissing.”

 

“What! Not more than a week?”

 

“I guess so. And that statistic scared him.”

 

“I understand why. A week is too short.” 

 

“I guess he wanted to kiss my great-aunt a lot more throughout his lifetime. Which is sweet. At the same time, it makes my nose crinkle.” 

 

Christmas memories fill my mind of halls echoing with carols as Great-Uncle Bert spun Gerti in circles and kissed her under the mistletoe. They were a romantic little couple. 

Throughout the years, I remember the mistletoe meaning different things to me. As a young kid, it was a fun tradition. But as a teenager, it felt sappy and was a pain to deal with whenever I had a boy over that I didn’t like⸺like that. One year, I mapped out a route that wouldn’t bring me in contact with the hanging stuff.

 

“What a beautiful love story. That’s a memorable family tradition.” Carly claps. “Forgive me for bringing this up again . . . what’ll you do if they find out you’ve been lying? Because your great-auntie is old school.” Carly looks at me.

 

“I don’t know.” I cover my eyes with my hands, “I rather not think about that, but . . . ” I look at her, “I know it’s important to plan for what if so I’ll have to marinate on that a bit longer. I just can’t disappoint Gerti. She got the inn because she was engaged at 25, and her sister, who was first in line to get it, didn't because she was single. So I know this family takes this rule seriously. If they find out, Gerti’s sister, Nancy, might try to get her grandkid, Tiffany to take over the inn instead.”

 

“You can’t let that happen.”

 

“I know, right?” I sigh.

 

“And you thought my traditions were unique. Your family is interesting. It’s another tradition in your family beside mistletoe,” she teases.

 

I shake my head and rub my brow. I’d rather we chuck that tradition out the window. If I have a daughter someday, I won’t make them abide by the rule . . .  it’s outdated. 

 

“What will your auntie think if you don't show up with Paul?” Carly asks.

 

“Well, she doesn’t really know about him. Ever since Nick and I broke up, I’ve kept my dating life and family separate. Mostly for Gerti’s sake. Two months into Nick and I dating, I swear she had already planned out every detail of our future wedding.” I roll my eyes, “Don’t get me wrong. I love her so much. But she got too invested when I was with Nick, mainly because she really loved him, and the fact we were dating.  She wanted it to work out more than I did⸺and I wanted it bad. She was steeped in our relationship like a teabag. She also didn’t want me to go to school in New York, so she agreed with Nick.” I sigh, “Definitely a messy breakup. It’s why I don’t share my dating life with her. No use telling her, if they aren’t the right person. I don’t want to go through that again.” I get up and move to the couch. Carly follows me.

 

“I get why you’d say that. Makes sense.”

 

“I have no idea what to do?” I set my head in my hands and sigh.

 

“You really need therapy, Addison.”

 

“I know …” I say, laying my head back against the couch armrest, “That’s why I have an amazing roomie who is my shrink.” I say. Carly shakes her head and laughs.

“Oooh, I have an idea . . .” Carly’s expression changes to excitement as she flaps her arms quickly like a bird.

 

“What?”

 

“Well, since this is the last resort and you aren’t the kind of person who goes around habitually lying, what if you hired someone to be your fake fiancé? Like in case Nick can’t help you out?”