A Beautiful Day Once - Chapter 3

A Beautiful Day Once (a novella) – Chapter 3

A Note from Tracy:

Thanks so much for joining me for another installment of A Beautiful Day Once.

Downtown WoodstockIn Chapter 3, Eden arrives in downtown Woodstock, Illinois, and I couldn’t have been more jealous. She sits in the Starbucks you see in the far left of the image, which is next to the historic Opera House where Rita and Larry pretended to stay in Groundhog’s Day.

And all along, I’d been planning for Eden, Abby, & Isla to stay in the Town Square Inn. You’ll have to read the chapter to find out how that works out, but it was just as much of a surprise to me as it was to my character! How fun is life. But I love how it works out in the end. I hope you will too.

And if you’re new to the story, click on these links to catch up on what you’ve missed so far:

Happy Reading!

Chapter 3

Voicemail again.

Either Wilder James was avoiding her call or stuck in a tunnel somewhere. Eden really hoped for the latter because if he didn’t call her back soon, she and her friends were heading to the Best Western.

The first snowflakes of the encroaching storm dusted her windshield with more quickly following. She flipped on her icy windshield wipers along with her seat warmer. The snow seemed to be arriving earlier than the weatherman had predicted. Maybe it was just an isolated flurry ahead of the storm.

Eden pulled her phone from her jacket pocket and checked her weather app. As the satellite link updated, she watched in horror as the massive storm system seemed to leapfrog across Missouri and barrel straight toward the Chicago area with all its might. It would be here within an hour.

Oh no! Abby’s flight.

Eden switched to the airline app to check the flight arrival time. It still showed an on-time arrival. She tried to exhale and relax into the flight forecast, but the panic didn’t let go.

Please, God. Please help her to get here safely.

Her frantic prayer bordered on desperation, not faith. What would she do without Abby? None of this was part of their ten-year plan.

Shivering against the cold seat, a strange sense of déjà vu overwhelmed her. How many times had her hopes and dreams fallen apart in the last few years? First school, and then her mother’s illness and recovery, and the fact that in spite of all her efforts, she still called Chicago home. Nothing had worked out the way she planned. Why would she think this weekend be any different?

However, pessimism had never been a natural fit for Eden. Of course, Abby would make it. She had to. And Isla would come too. Wilder would give up his room at the Cherry Tree Inn Bed and Breakfast, and the group would have the time of their lives exploring Woodstock, Illinois, and Wilder could just go back to Chicago if he didn’t want to sleep at the Best Western.

She turned her Groundhog’s Day soundtrack up in support of her pep talk and headed back to the downtown area. Her official room reservations for the next three days were at the Town Square Inn. Just in case “Mr. James” wasn’t the Wilder James, Eden decided it might be safe to try to add a night to her existing reservation. That way they wouldn’t have to move rooms.

She smiled to herself wondering if she held the record for the longest reservation at the Town Square Inn. After all, she’d reserved their rooms three years ago. At the time, she’d still carried hope that she might luck out and win the Cherry Tree Inn lottery for a room on Groundhog’s Day. The Town Square Inn was simply her backup plan.

Every year the owners of the Cherry Tree took applications through the fall and then held a lottery, drawing names for the weekend of Groundhog’s Day. Eden had entered every year for the past four years—just in case.

And that was part of what made Wilder’s coup of the available room all the more grating. She should have that room, not him. She’d earned it, and she definitely wanted it more.

Her GPS directed her to turn right, and just like that she entered a story world. The town square was already crusted in a blanket of white both from the storms the week before and the newest flurries. Still, she’d know the familiar buildings anywhere. In the center of the tree-lined square stood the pavilion where the activities would be held on Saturday. And on one corner, the movie theatre where they’d attend a showing of Groundhog’s Day on Friday night. And there was the beautiful Woodstock Opera House, which would be perfect if it really were a hotel like the one the movie pretended.

Eden’s cheeks hurt from smiling. Checking her GPS one more time, she pulled into the parking space that indicated she should be directly in front of the Town Square Inn. Instead, a real estate building greeted her. Berkshire Hathaway Real Estate. She double-checked her GPS. This was definitely the right place. It even looked like the right building. Only the signage was incorrect.

But this couldn’t be right. She re-checked her phone, this time scouring the internet. Nothing but complaints that no one was returning phone calls. The hotel’s Google entry no longer held contact information. Their Facebook page had been wiped clean. Why hadn’t she noticed this before? They’d happily taken her deposit…

Three years ago.

Unwilling to accept what the sick feeling in the pit of her stomach was telling her, she wrapped her poppy-red scarf around her face, preparing herself for the twenty below windchill and made a mad dash for the real estate office door.

It chimed happily.

“Can I help you?” The lady at the reception desk had a perky voice and a face that boasted of too many botox injections. Her hair had been flat-ironed to an inch of its platinum blonde life.

“Yes, please. I’m looking for the Town Square Inn. Am I in the wrong place?”

“No, you’re in the right place. It went out of business a couple of years ago.”

Eden knew her jaw was hanging open as she tried to process the woman’s words. Out of business. Why would it go out of business? What did she do now?

“Okay, well, thanks.”

“Are you okay? Do have a place to stay? The storm is going to be here in less than thirty minutes.”

“Thirty minutes? Are you sure?”

“Yup. Mayor Sager just stopped in to warn us. We’re all getting ready to head home. Just make sure you’ve got shelter. They’re expecting fifty-mile-an-hour winds.”

In other words, a blizzard. Perfect. The weatherman got it right for once, just the wrong timing. For the first time, the thought occurred to her that even if Abby’s plane made it in okay, her friends might not be able to make it to Woodstock. They’d close the roads if the visibility got too bad.

“Hey, but if you’re looking for a place to stay, you might try the Best Western. They always have openings.”

Eden nodded, unable to speak around the lump in her throat. She would not cry. Nothing was that bad. So she’d be stuck in a Best Western for a night. She’d definitely had worse nights. Like every night her mom spent in the University of Chicago hospital, fighting for her life. The Best Western couldn’t be as bad as sleeping in a vinyl armchair, listening to her mom groan in pain, praying for a donor. Perspective.

“Thank you,” she managed to squeak.

The wind whipped the ends of her scarf against her face as she ran for her car. The storm was picking up strength with every passing minute. Maybe she should head straight for the Best Western and hunker down for the night. But there was no point in getting trapped without having coffee and dinner first. And she was here. She might as well enjoy what she could.

The green and white Starbucks sign called her from across the square. Instead of doing the responsible thing, she headed for comfort.

One venti, four shot, five pump, vanilla latte, and a cranberry scone later and Eden finally felt her optimism returning. Abby’s plane was still showing on time, so that was something. God bless those traffic controllers at Chicago O’hare. Traffic controllers and God willing, Abby should land in thirty minutes. But

Eden’s weather app showed a steady line of purple, blue, and white advancing on the little town of Woodstock and the Chicago Metroplex. It was like Abby and the weather were in a vicious race to the finish, and Eden couldn’t do anything but watch.

She almost dropped her phone when it started ringing in her hands. She fumbled it twice before answering.

“Mom? Are you okay?” It was still her first reflex to think that something was wrong and her mom was in trouble.

“I’m fine honey. Just worried about you.”

Honey. That was the part she couldn’t get used to. Or the concern. Could a liver transplant change someone’s brain chemistry? Alter their personality? Or was it just sobriety?

“I’m good, Mom. Sitting in Starbucks in Woodstock, waiting for Abby and Isla.”

Her mom was quiet on the other end. “Do you think they’ll make it? I don’t want you to have to spend your birthday alone.”

The sentiment should have been sweet. It sounded like a normal mother, but Eden’s response was a grimace. With every normal, kind thing her mother did, the fissure of pain opened. In fact, this might be the first birthday her mom had ever worried about. Eden had gotten so used to the indifference and the neglect, but she couldn’t explain why the concern and caring hurt even more.

“I won’t be alone, Mom. They’ll be here. And even if they don’t make it today, they’ll have all day tomorrow to get here, and I know they’ll be here by Saturday.” She could hear the defensiveness in her own voice and hated it. Her mom was just asking.

She softened her next response. “But thanks for checking on me. Are you good? Do you have everything you need?”

“I’m great, honey. I stocked up on food and jugs of water and firewood. Mr. Henley helped me carry it all up to my apartment. Mr. Gibbs says he thinks the library will be closed because of the blizzard. I won’t have to go to work, and I’ll still get paid. Did you know they did that?”

Yeah, Eden knew. She’d held a job since she was fifteen. However, it was something totally new for her mom.

“I’m glad, Mom. Stay safe and warm. Call Mr. Henley if you need anything. Remember, I filled your prescriptions last week, so you should have everything you need…”

“I got it, honey. Don’t worry about me. You just have fun with your friends. I know you’ve been excited about this for a long time. Just stay safe, and I’m praying for you.”

One more thing that had changed after her mom’s transplant—her faith. Her mom claimed it was her roommate’s influence, that she’d had a genuine encounter with God as she lay waiting to die and then in her miraculous transplant and recovery.

Honestly, Eden was still waiting for it all to wear off. “Sobriety is a long, complicated journey,” she told herself over and over. Yet with each month that passed, it began to feel more real. At the same time, what did she do with a mom who prayed? A mom who didn’t drink anymore and suddenly cared? A mom that wanted to make up for past mistakes? And why did she feel so angry instead of grateful?

“Hey Mom, I’m getting another call. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“Okay. I love you, honey.”

Eden almost choked as she returned her mom’s words. It was a complicated new world between them.

She pulled the phone away from her ear to see Wilder James’s number on her caller ID. Finally. She clicked over.

“Wilder! Hey. Are you guys on your way? Are you picking Abby up at the airport? Is Isla there?”

Wilder James chuckled on the other end of the line rather than answering her barrage of questions.
“You sound exactly the same, Eden.”

Okay. What did that mean? She waited, hoping he might get around to answering.

Finally, he sighed. “No, we’re not on our way. Isla’s going to wait for Abby and come with her. But the storm looks bad, Eden. Really bad. Anyway, Isla didn’t want you to be alone there, and she wasn’t ready to come yet. So she sent me.” A long, awkward pause. “Surprise?”

“Isla sent you instead of coming herself?”

“No. As I said, she’s coming with Abby. If the storm lets them drive, they should be here tonight.”

But more words didn’t change the facts—Isla sent her brother instead of coming herself. Eden didn’t know exactly why that hurt, but it did. Why wouldn’t Isla just drive with her brother? At least Eden would have one of her friends with her. It didn’t make sense. And why was Wilder coming at all?

“Wilder, did you happen to book a room at the Cherry Tree Inn about thirty minutes ago?”

“Yeah. I did. How did you know that? I was thrilled they had a room. Isla seemed to think it would be hard to get one.”

Eden had to breathe for a few seconds to stop her irritation from winning. She knew she wasn’t being fair. Wilder didn’t know what he’d done. Still, she couldn’t quite keep the accusation from her voice.

“Yeah, well, I was standing right there waiting while the lady gave away their last room to you.”

Silence. Then a slow, “Oh.”

“And the hotel I booked three years ago has gone out of business, so my bucket list vacation is ending up at the Best Western.”

“Seriously? Wow, that’s bad luck. You reserved your rooms three years ago? Really?”

Eden would have punched him in the shoulder if he was sitting beside her. She’d never had a brother, but Isla’s brother deserved it.

Before she got the chance to say anything else, he interjected. “Hey, can I call you right back? Give me ten minutes.” Without waiting for an answer, the line clicked dead.

Eden stared at her phone as if it was to blame for Wilder’s rudeness. Seriously? Obviously the years of wealthy living and entitlement had gone to his handsome head. And now Wilder was coming, and Isla wasn’t. Perfect. Instead of spending the weekend with friends, being goofy and laughing and making memories, she’d have to be on her best behavior, pretending not to swoon at Wilder James the way every other girl probably did. Just great. Maybe the urge to punch him would help.

For the first time, she hoped the blizzard would block the road. That way she’d get his room at the Inn, and she wouldn’t have to deal with Isla’s stupid big brother. And why was he coming, anyway?

Then again, if the road was blocked, Abby and Isla wouldn’t be able to make it either.

Eden groaned, watching as the wind whipped the snow sideways, obscuring the town square in a white haze. She should really leave for the Best Western soon. Instead, she found herself praying…

Lord, I didn’t mean it. Please let them get through. Even if Wilder has to come too.

As if in answer to prayer, her phone rang again. Her first thought was Abby. Maybe her flight had landed.

But no, Wilder again.


“Hey, sorry about that. I was just talking to Trudy at the Cherry Tree Inn, and they’ve had another cancellation. I booked you for the whole weekend. I hope that’s okay. It’s got to be better than the Best Western, right?”

If Wilder James had just proposed marriage, Eden couldn’t have been more astonished. He got her a room at the Cherry Tree Inn Bed and Breakfast. She imagined Trudy’s face when she met Wilder James in person. If the housekeeper thought his voice was yummy, she’d probably had a fit when she saw his broad shoulders, trim waist, tousled brown hair, and rakish smile. And she’d probably fainted if Wilder showed up in a suit. Eden well remembered feeling the same way at his father’s funeral. Her emotions were utterly inappropriate considering the circumstances, but Wilder in a suit was a beautiful thing. Poor Trudy. She’d probably give him anything he wanted.

Whatever the reason for the available room, Eden was left feeling like she had whiplash. One minute she wanted to punch him, and now she wanted to hug him really hard.

“Wilder? Are you serious?”

“Of course. Oh, and Trudy’s making dinner for all the guests since the storm is expected to get really bad tonight. Where are you now?”

“At the Starbucks in Woodstock’s town square.”

“Well, head over here, and we’ll hunker down together until we know if Isla and Abby are going to make it.”

“But why… why are you doing this Wilder? I don’t understand. Why are you here?”

She could hear him muffle the receiver for a second and imagined him moving away from Trudy and whoever else currently occupied the Cherry Tree Inn lounge. He dropped his voice, and the effect was gravelly and intimate. It sent a shiver through her that had nothing to do with the cold.

“Because you invited me. I was standing right in front of you when we all made a promise to come. And I never go back on a promise. Besides, you’re practically family, Eden. Please? Let me do this for you.”

A funny feeling stirred in her chest as Eden struggled to catch her breath. He thought of her like a little sister—practically family. Of course he did. It was how he’d always treated her over the years. But hearing the words from his lips was both bitter and sweet. Sweet because if she’d ever had a brother, she would have wanted one exactly like Wilder. She’d always wished he were hers. And bitter, because in all the years she’d been friends with his sister, she’d never, ever managed to think of Wilder like a brother.

And from the way her heart was racing at the thought of seeing him in a few minutes, she wasn’t about to start now.

Thanks again for reading! The next installment is right around the corner, so join my newsletter to stay tuned.

With love,

Comments 1

  1. Wonderful so far…did I miss chapter 4? I got chpt 3 in April, but haven’t seen anymore. Thank you for sharing!

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