“You didn’t,” she said. “The radio did. Actually, startled me. I’m not used to someone else in the house.”
“Oh God, yes,” she smiled, trudging to a chair by the kitchen table and folding herself in it.
“I’d like to say that I’m making the Chance Special, but I’d be lying,” I said. “Haven’t made breakfast in a while, so I’m probably going to ruin everything.”
She nodded and gestured at the stove. “Probably burn down my kitchen while you’re at it.”
One of the pans was engulfed in flames, and I quickly pulled it away and dropped it into the sink, immediately turning the cold water onto it. “Damn!”
Ashlyn laughed. “What do you do in the mornings?” she asked. “Pick up a bagel from Starbucks or something?”
“I usually have Alice get me something,” I said, staring at the mess in the sink.
I froze for a beat. “What?” I asked, trying to buy myself some time.
“You said Alice gets you breakfast?”
“Yeah,” I smiled. “Alice. My secretary.”
“I thought Alice was your sister.” She gave me a suspicious eye.
“No, Pauline is my sister,” I muttered, hoping I was remembering the lie I’d told her correctly. “Alice my secretary.”
Ashlyn raised her eyebrows at me. “You have a secretary?”
“Don’t all successful entrepreneurs have secretaries?” I asked.
“You didn’t strike me as the kind who would need one.”
“Hey, just because I came into town in a beat-up Chevy doesn’t mean I don’t have money,” I said, pointing an accusing finger at her and hoping I could lie my way out of the corner I’d painted myself into.
“Whatever you say, Mr. Sabbatical,” she said. “And wouldn’t your sister and your secretary be wondering where you are? I mean, they’d be expecting you in Houston by now, right?”
“She’s my sister, not my mother,” I said, suddenly remembering that I had switched my phone off after calling my mother on my first day in Ludwig, and hadn’t checked it since. “Come to think of it, I haven’t checked in with her in a couple of days. Maybe I should.
“Maybe you should.” Ashlyn got up and tapped me on the chest, pushing onto her toes to kiss me. “Go check in, and I’ll make us breakfast,” she said. “I really hope you’re better at business than you are at cooking.”
I stepped out onto the porch, waiting for my phone to start up while Ashlyn took over in the kitchen. I sat down on the porch swing, kicked my legs up and enjoyed the fresh air and silence around me. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I had never felt this relaxed in my life.
The doctor’s voice came to mind.
Learn to enjoy life, Mr. Ridder. Before your bad habits kill you.
My phone came to life, and almost immediately the notifi
cations went crazy. I frowned, lifting the screen up higher to avoid the glare, and watched in horror as my instant messaging notifications rose to almost one hundred missed messages. I groaned, cursing myself silently for even turning the damn thing on. I could almost feel the onset of a headache. I could feel my heart catching in my chest.
I swiped and unlocked the screen, bringing up the messaging app. I braced my elbows on my knees and bent over the phone, frowning as I read the first few messages. Some were from board members, some from shareholders, and others from acquaintances I had made from random social circles. But there was one thing in common; everyone was wishing me a speedy recovery.
Before I could scroll through the rest, the phone vibrated and began to ring. Alice’s number flashed on my screen, and I quickly answered.
“Where the fuck are you?” she almost yelled. “I’ve been calling you for two days!”