(Not)Normal by Katy Hunter
General Release Date: 26th April 2022
Word Count: 50,993
Book Length: NOVEL
Falling in love with Elijah Booth was never Milly’s plan, but the warm Texas summer, two adorable aunts and a horse called Smoky might just change her mind.
Milly Parker, a British singer, has packed her bags and is heading to her aunts’ house in Austin. Sally and Carrie run the best coffee shop in town, and Milly is about to become their newest barista.
She’s also about to meet some of Sally’s best customers. From nine to ninety-nine, they come in all ages, shapes and sizes. One in particular, Elijah Booth, catches her eye, but he is not like the boys she left behind.
Elijah, like almost every other single person in town, has made a vow of celibacy—not even a kiss before marriage.
Can Milly adjust to her new life in a new country and the new rules that come with it—or will she start to wonder if her new normal is even normal at all?
Reader advisory: This book contains mention of domestic abuse, using alcohol for avoidance, and a surprise pregnancy.
Sal taps on the steering wheel to the beat of the country music blasting out of the radio. The windows are wound down to the max, and the tires are speeding along the road a little fast for my liking.
“Is it far?” I’d quite like it not to be far. My legs are sticking to the fake leather seats. That’s going to pinch.
“No. Twenty minutes or so.”
It’s already been twenty-five minutes. How big is this place? Ever since we left Austin, all I’ve seen is the occasional red barn or auto shop and one or two shooting ranges. Otherwise, it’s flat, dry countryside as far as the eye can see.
I’m about to discover my new normal.
Normal. I hate that word. It packs people up in neat little boxes. My mum likes to use it when referring to anybody who isn’t exactly like her.
Me, for example.
“It’s not normal, Milly.” She’d brought it out when I’d run off at sixteen to be a popstar, when I’d given that up to go to college and again when I’d refused to bring any boyfriends home, because, well, none of them were going to last long enough for her to get attached. She might have brought it up once or twice when a video of me breaking my ex-boyfriend’s heart went viral. Then this… Flying across the world to Austin to help Sal run her coffee shop. Carrie is sick, like really sick, and Sal needs help.
And I really need to get away.
Mum thinks people should stay in one place. She’s always lived in the town she grew up in. She met and married my dad there, bought a home there. It’s like she got everything she needed with two minutes’ walk of the town center, cemented her feet to the floor and never moved again.
I will never cement my feet anywhere. You can quote me on that.
I can’t think of anything worse. How can you not want to see the world? Experience all the things? Taste all those delicious mouths that are just waiting to be kissed?
I’ve seen what marriage does to people, how it numbs their sense of adventure. I want to feel.
“Do you have to go in today?” I ask.
She turns to me and smiles, looking exactly like my dad for a split second. Luckily for her, that’s one of the very few things they have in common. “No, honey, you’ve got me all to yourself until tomorrow. Carrie’s got it covered.” Carrie is Sal’s ‘close friend’. I’m pretty sure she’s a lot more than that, but Sal has never been one to share things like that with our side of the family. I guess I’ll find out soon enough.
“And when do I start?” I lean down and grab my bag. Thinking about Carrie reminds me that I should call Mum and Dad, tell them I got here okay. I fiddle with my phone while Sal explains how the shift system works.
“So, it’s basically part-time. You start straight away, but we’ll ease you in.” Good. I’m no barista. Sal’s coffee shop is supposedly the best in town, and I’m not ready for that kind of responsibility yet.
Sal packed her bags at eighteen and ran away to America in search of Melrose Place. I don’t know where that is, but she told my dad that it had to be better than home. She met Carrie shortly afterward and they moved to a little town a few miles out of Austin, set up their business and never looked back.
I’ve never quite worked out how moving across the world, settling down and working in the same place for your whole life is any different from what she would have done had she stayed at home, but I guess it’s warmer—a lot warmer. The trails of sweat trickling down my back right now can attest to this fact.
Eventually, love makes everybody cement their feet to the floor.
I twist and turn the ancient buttons in front of me. One of them falls off into my hand. “Doesn’t this car have air conditioning?”
She chuckles. “The air conditioning hasn’t worked on this old thing for years. I keep telling Carrie we need to get a new car but goddammit that woman loves her Pontiac more than me.”
Unbuttoning my blouse in an attempt to get some kind of respite, I lean out of the window, letting my arm catch the gusts of wind as we race on down the road. Being blasted by hot air is slightly more pleasant than wallowing in it.
Precisely seventeen minutes later we draw up in front of their beautiful home. Admittedly you have to drive down the bumpiest, dustiest lane to get there, but it’s totally worth losing all the feeling in your bum.
“Her grandmother left her the land, and we built on it. Six acres.” Sal grabs my suitcase from the boot of the car and stands beside me, admiring her massive house.
Sal and Carrie have the kind of place that I could only ever dream of owning. It’s a mansion compared to what I left behind. Back home, houses are small and stuck together. If you strike lucky, you get an end of terrace with an alleyway that goes down the side. This place has a front porch, a double garage and a garden five times bigger than itself.
I’m not jealous. There’s nothing more stifling than buying a house. But if I did want one, it would probably need to look like this.
“And she doesn’t mind me staying?” I have fond memories of the few times I’ve met her. She would play board games with me when I was little and take me to the park, but I don’t know a lot about Carrie from an adult’s point of view, other than the fact that she is my aunt’s partner.
“Are you joking? You’re the daughter we never had. Prepare to be smothered.” I haven’t been filled in on the intricacies of Carrie’s illness, but I know it’s bad. Bad enough for my dad to shed a tear, and he never cries. Another member of the household is going to be a burden on the two of them, no matter how much they love me.
I grab my auntie and pull her in for a spontaneous hug. The woman is skin and bones. She works too hard and, as I’m beginning to understand, worries too hard, too. “I missed you, Auntie Sally. Can we go see Carrie right now? I need more hugs.” Carrie is the opposite of Sal. She’s all boobs and bum. The two of them are polar opposites, and yet it works. It has for twenty-five years.
We drag my suitcase into the front hall.
“Do you want a glass of water or something?” Bright, modern paintings adorn every wall, interspersed with landscapes and portraits. The house is open plan, light and bright—and hospital-level clean. There is not a speck of dust in the place.
Are they really going to want me living here? I’m twenty-one on the outside, but those who have had the misfortune to share a house with me might suggest that I stopped maturing at around age seventeen.
I gulp down my water as we close up the house and head off to the coffee shop, and I place the pristine crystal glass on a side-table by the front door as we leave. My disruption to their perfect home has begun, and it’s only the first day.
I’m more than exhausted but too excited to sleep. Leaning in to check myself in the car’s side-view mirror, I’m horrified by what I see before me. There are bags under my eyes big enough to have paid the extra baggage allowance. I look too much like I’ve been on a packed plane for fourteen of the last sixteen hours. Then again, when did I ever look fancy?
About the Author. . .
When she's not writing you can find her curled up in front of the fire, book in one hand and a glass of chardonnay in the other.
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