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Times of Trouble, Book 3 - In the Rough Times

Times of Trouble, Book 3 - In the Rough Times

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"It's summertime in Silverdale and the warm weather has brought a wave of newcomers to town. Everyone is excited about the new café that's just opened up, including Ian, who's been working hard to make his own new business a success. But things aren't all sunshine and roses. The influx of out-of-towners has caused some tension among the locals.

Now, with two children missing, the town is on edge. I can't help but feel like Irene and I would be able to solve this case together. But when Irene decides to abandon me and leave town, I'm left to figure things out on my own."

Read Chapter 1 - In the Rough Times

The magnolia tree outside City Hall was in full bloom, creamy white petals scattered across the sidewalk like a fresh layer of snow. If spring was full of life and energy, summer brought with it a glow of happiness that folks tried to replace with fairy lights and pumpkin soup, and brightly wrapped gifts in winter. Irene couldn’t help smiling at the tree like they were old friends. In fact, her cheeks were often aching by the time she went to bed these days, her smile permanently fixed in place since David’s return.

“Who are you smiling at?” David pulled out a metal seat and sat down across the table from Irene. 

A new café had opened in town. The building had been a café before the apocalypse, one of several, with a dated pink and white striped awning out front and a window that seemed to be almost permanently steamed up. Now, with a coat of white paint on the interior walls, a sign across the window that read CASA MIA, and the doors thrown open to let in the fresh air, it hardly resembled the same place. There were even a couple of metal tables and chairs outside—quite Parisian—so that people could enjoy their coffee in the sunshine.

At first, Irene was unsure how she felt about the café. After so many years of being isolated from the outside world, it was almost wrong to see a hint of normality settling back over Silverdale. The community had come together in desperate times. They’d grown together, looked out for one another, learned to survive in the worst possible circumstances, and, for a time, Irene had been unable to imagine the world any other way. She supposed that she felt safe in the little bubble that Silverdale had become. 

Now though, outsiders were appearing more and more frequently, and she knew that things were changing. It was life. The world, nature, people, couldn’t stand still, it was a constantly evolving miracle. Even Mia, the proprietor of the new café, was an outsider, recently arrived from the city. Her folks knew the Perez family, so it wasn’t as though she had no connections in Silverdale—Irene even vaguely recalled seeing her at the farm occasionally when she was a little girl—but still it was a sign that their little closed community was starting to expand. Irene had felt guilty for wanting to erect a barrier around them to keep people out, until her neighbor, and close friend, Hilda Jo, let her into a secret. She felt the same way. If they both felt uneasy about welcoming strangers after so many years, then it stood to reason they might not be the only ones, and Irene vowed to keep an open mind. Baby steps. There was still a whole world of new discoveries out there, and who was she to shut herself off from it, especially when it had brought her son home.

“The tree.” Irene smiled at David. “Isn’t it beautiful?”

David followed her gaze and nodded. “You and Dad always did love gardening.”

“It was my lily of the valley that brought you back to me,” Irene said, recalling recent events. Eldon, the man who was incarcerated for stealing the winter provisions last fall, was poisoned using an extract of lily of the valley, and Irene had been accused of his murder. Despite the lack of supporting evidence, Irene’s case had gone to trial in City Hall, and David had been called in to represent her. “You might never have come back to Silverdale otherwise.”

David reached for her hand across the table and squeezed. He was still so like his father that tears welled in Irene’s eyes. Bill would have been so proud of their son, of the brave, intelligent man that he’d become. 

“When I heard that you and Dad were gone, I…” David shook his head. “It just felt too painful to come back and start again on my own.”

Since his return, David had been staying with Irene, sleeping in his old room that hadn’t changed since he was a teenager. Irene wished that she could keep him forever. She’d never let him out of her sight if she had her own way, but her son had a new life in the next town which, she told herself, meant that he had gravitated towards Silverdale as soon as he was able, he just couldn’t bring himself to come back to an empty home. He had a wife now, and a daughter. Irene had a grandchild she had never met, and although she had rarely used the Facetime option on her mobile phone when she had the opportunity, she understood what a blessing it would be now. 

“You can’t believe everything you hear.” Irene blinked back tears and smiled at him. Even as she said the words out loud, she could hear Bill’s voice. 

“I’ll remember that in the future.” 

Mia came out then with their lunch order. She was an attractive woman in her early 30s, thick, auburn hair that even Hilda Jo would be jealous of, and dimples when she smiled. Irene had been a little wary of coming to the café for lunch when David suggested it—she could easily prepare lunch at home—but she had to admit that the food looked and smelled good. 

“Here you go.” Mia set their grilled vegetable paninis on the table in front of them along with two frothy lattes. She smiled at Irene. “It’s good to see you here. I’ve heard all about your pumpkin pie, Irene. I only hope my dishes lives up to your expectations.”

Heat flooded Irene’s cheeks. “Who told you…?” She glanced at the food on her plate, the vibrant yellow sweetcorn kernels, the juicy, herb-infused tomatoes, crisp zucchini, and red onions. “George and Mary,” she said, answering her own question. 

“Of course.” Mia nodded. “All my produce is from their farm; you can’t go wrong with the best ingredients. Andrew collects it early in the morning and delivers it to me so it’s fresh each day. It wasn’t so easy in the city.”

Mia was such a bundle of contagious energy that Irene couldn’t help liking the young woman. It must not have been easy coming into such a closed-knit community and starting up a new business, especially when folks had forgotten how to socialize over coffee and a chocolate chip muffin. 

“I’m sure it will taste as good as it looks,” Irene said. 

Mia went back inside, and Irene tried a slice of tomato. With the explosion of taste on her tongue came memories of dining out with her husband, romantic, candlelit dinners, a bottle of chilled white wine, and easy conversation. She’d forgotten what a pleasure it could be to have someone else prepare a meal for her.

“Almost as good as your food, Mom,” David said. “Did you never think about opening a café yourself?”

Irene swallowed a mouthful of coffee. She preferred flavored tea, but she had to admit that it added to the experience. Good food, good coffee, her son sitting beside her as if they’d never been apart. What more could she want?

“I thought about opening a natural remedy practice,” Irene said, “but I don’t know…”

“What? What don’t you know?” David set his panini down on the plate and wiped his mouth with a crisp, white napkin.

“I don’t know if anyone in Silverdale would want it.”

“I think it’s exactly what they want.”

Irene smiled at her son. “You’re just saying that to make me feel better.”

“I’m not.” David shook his head emphatically. “People know you. They trust you, Mom.”

“I’m not so sure about that after what happened to Eldon.”

“Forget about that,” David said. “They know it wasn’t you.”

“Yes, but—”

“Stop throwing obstacles in your way. If you don’t grab the idea and run with it, someone else will, someone who won’t have your knowledge and experience.”

The truth was the experience with Eldon and the discovery that his daughter Sylvia had poisoned him using lilies of the valley from Irene’s flowerbed had knocked her confidence. What if she started a practice and no one came? What if she got it wrong and unwittingly poisoned someone with herbs that she’d grown herself? 

Sensing her reluctance, David said, “Look how the people of Silverdale have survived since the disaster. They’ve taught themselves skills that were used a hundred years ago, and they’ve thrived on it. You all have. If anyone is going to embrace natural remedies, it’s a town like Silverdale. Things are different in the larger cities. The folks there don’t have the sense of community you have here, and they’ve never quite adapted to losing the technology around which their lives revolved. They’re still looking for the old world to be reinstated and for life to return to normal.”

“This is the new normal,” Irene said.

“Exactly. Not so easy to accept though, when there’s no farm a couple of blocks away producing enough food to feed the neighborhood, and people are not coming together to pickle vegetables that will last the winter. There are no end-of-fall feasts in the city. No all-hands-on-deck spirit at harvest time. And to make matters worse, we don’t have the transport links we used to have. People feel isolated, perhaps more so in the larger cities than in towns like Silverdale.”

Irene couldn’t help thinking how like his father David had become, accepting situations at face value, and looking for ways to adapt to them and make life more comfortable for everyone. Irene had always been prone to overthinking, and the natural remedy practice was no exception. In fact, she’d put the thought aside since David’s return. Perhaps she’d been deliberately using him as a distraction.

“I’ll think about it,” she said, returning to her food.

“Don’t think about it for too long, Mom. I think you’ll start to see more people migrating from the cities, and if you don’t start your practice soon, someone else will.”

“Thank you,” she said.

“For what?”

“Being supportive. Believing in me. Coming back.” She swallowed a mouthful of vegetables and squeezed her eyes shut to keep the tears at bay. They were tears of joy, but still, she didn’t want anything to spoil her moments with David.

David smiled. “How would you like to come and meet your granddaughter?”

Irene blinked. “Really? When? Will you bring her here?”

“Soon. I was kind of thinking you might like to come and stay with us, take a vacation, get to know your family. They’re dying to meet you.”

Until now, Irene had refused to consider leaving Silverdale in case she missed David. She’d convinced herself that the moment she left town would be the moment he entered in the opposite direction, and she would never know how close they’d come to being reunited. But now, here they were. She still pinched herself sometimes to remind herself that it was real.

“Yes,” she said. “I would love that.”

What are Cozy Apocalypse Books?

  • No gratuitous violence or sex scenes
  • No foul language
  • No weaponry lists or zombie gore

Main Tropes

  • Survival After the Fall
  • Forming New Family Bonds
  • Thriving After the End
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