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I was on a high when Michael and I returned from our honeymoon. The time spent relaxing, sightseeing and romancing my husband was definitely needed. Planning a wedding and starting a new business at the same time was stressful but the time away gave me some sort of clarity.

The theme and the menu for my restaurant were decided a while now. I wanted it to be a cozy bistro that would be a mix of fine dining and gourmet cooking but after talking to Michael I realized that there were at least a handful other restaurants like that 20 to 30 minutes outside of Oasis Springs. Having one in town would be more convenient for potential customers but I would still have to compete with existing restaurants in town during lunch and dinner hours. Lotus had an Asian-fusion menu and of course The Villa Bovine where I used to work served Italian cuisine. Those types of specialty places always drew in more of a crowd in a small town like this with very little cultural diversity. To compete I would need a more niche setting. Those places catered to lunch and dinner crowds so my restaurant would tackle the breakfast and brunch crowd. I would open my own coffeehouse!

Now, I know the idea isn’t exactly original. Newcrest and Windenburg are flooded with them but Oasis Springs has nothing like it, not even some pop-up food stall that sells pastries and coffee. Hell, there isn’t even a bakery in town. Michael’s suggestion about adding cupcakes and apple pie to my menu made me realise that plenty of people in this town would love something like that.

I already bought a vacant lot and made plans to build my restaurant from scratch but after deciding to change up the theme, I realised I didn’t need to build my restaurant from the ground up because there was already prime real estate on the market. The Nookstone Café, that is. The owners were quick to get it off their hands since it had closed its doors for quite some time so I was able to buy the property for 10 percent below the asking price.

It was like fate or something. This was the restaurant where I had my very first job, the same place I used to go to with my family as a kid, and now I was the owner. The inside wasn’t nearly as run down as I imagined it would be, just a little grime here and there, and all the appliances needed replacing but nothing a little aesthetic makeover couldn’t cure.

The Nookstone called itself a café but it was really more of a diner. It had a few steak and fish dishes on the menu but it was mostly burgers, fries, and sandwiches – fast food type of stuff. I planned on keeping the name but it would be a completely different feel and menu.

I needed an espresso bar to serve different gourmet coffee and iced drinks. Of course, it won’t just be coffee and baked goods. There would be some really delicious brunch items like frittatas, gourmet salads, casseroles and even a few home-style comfort foods with a refined twist for lunch.

I got to work on some of my recipes wanting to offer something special and put a unique twist on every single item on the menu. I had plenty of time at home to work on the menu with the renovations taking place. Michael was more than happy to be my guinea pig in between painting.

His opinions were so well-thought out. He always discussed the flavour profile and the presentation which was the kind of feedback I needed especially since most of my family and friends would simply say ‘it tastes great.’

Speaking of family, I was so caught up in the excitement and plans for the restaurant that I didn’t give too much thought to the two extra house guests that were still with us, Lyra and Liam. She was supposed to return to Windenburg weeks ago while Michael and I were still on our honeymoon but for some reason, she and Liam were still here. Not that I minded at all. I loved being able to spend time with my nephew for once.

His chubby cheeks and bright eyes were all too cute. I couldn’t get enough of the little guy. I’m the youngest in my family so I never had to care for a younger sibling. I don’t have a whole lot of experience with babies at all so it was nice to be able to do stuff with Liam like read books to him and play games.

He loves my cooking more than anyone else and I think it’s because he survives off of cereal, ham sandwiches, and chicken nuggets since Lyra is a terrible cook. He loves my cupcakes the best and since I’ve been baking up a storm these days it’s almost too easy for him to get to sneak one when no one is watching. I almost always catch him red-handed, or should I say crumb-handed!

Having Liam and Lyra there was great but I think it bothered Michael a little that they were still here long after they were supposed to be gone because he started bringing it up often.

“I think she’s hiding something.” He said.

“Michael…”

“Why haven’t you asked her anything?”

“I’ve been busy with the restaurant…”

“I went online and I checked.” He stated. “There’s no bad weather. In fact, there was no snowstorm in Windenburg or anywhere near it on the day of our wedding. She lied to you so she could get to stay here and I think we should know why!”

“Alright, I’ll ask her but…is it really such a bad thing that she and Liam are still here?”

He folded his arms and gave me an incredulous look. “I’m just saying,” I continued, “she’s my sister and this is her home too regardless if my name is on everything. I don’t want her to feel like she’s not welcomed here.”

“Are you serious Maia?” His voice raised a little.

“Why are you getting so upset about this?” I knew he had legit issues with Lyra but the house was so big, there would hardly be a chance for the two of them to be in each other’s way so I didn’t understand why he was so worked up.

“Do you not get it?”

“No, I don’t, so enlighten me.”

“You’re worried about her being uncomfortable but what about me? Did you forget what she did to me? To us? You can forgive her if you want, that’s your sister, but I can’t. It makes me really uncomfortable watching her and Liam around this house every day.”

“I’m confused. You didn’t have a problem with them at our wedding. You talked to her…”

“I tolerate her at family events because of who she is to you but that’s it. I don’t want to have to live with that woman and I would think as your husband that I would get more consideration than your sister who you allow to walk all over you like she’s doing right now!”

He yelled at me. He actually yelled at me. Sure we’ve had fights before, but he never got so upset with me that he raised his voice like that. The last time I saw him so angry was when he found out Liam wasn’t his but even then his anger wasn’t directed at me.

“Alright…just…calm down.”

He exhaled sharply and then hung his head down. “Baby, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have yelled at you like that.”

“It’s okay…” I didn’t realise I was shaking until he took my hands into his.

“No, it’s not okay. I’m an asshole. I shouldn’t talk to you like that, period.” He sighed heavily. “I guess I’m still hurt over what happened, with Liam and all that. I know you like having them here but honestly, it bothers me…”

“I get it,” I said, feeling calm again now that he was. “I’ll talk to Lyra and find out what’s going on.”

I’m not confrontational at all. I try to avoid it as much as I can but if I want to be a successful businesswoman then I’m gonna have to deal with it because I’ll most likely be dealing with confrontation on a daily basis. Lyra’s presence in this house was making Michael uncomfortable and as much as I love my sister and nephew, Michael had to come first since he was my husband and all. I didn’t want to admit it but I did have a gut feeling that Lyra was hiding or running away from something. I just didn’t want to get involved but I guess now I have to.

“Can we talk?” I asked her later that day.

“Sure. What’s up?”

“What’s going on Lyra? Why haven’t you gone back to Windenburg as yet?” I asked calmly.

She chuckled. “Fed up of me already, Mai?”

“You know that’s not the case but Michael…”

“I get it.” She interrupted. “Don’t worry. I’ll be out of your hair in a couple of days. I’ll be moving in with Aden.”

“Aden? But he lives across town. Does that mean…?”

“I’m moving back home.”

Moving back home? That was unexpected. “But why? And what about Julian? And your job?”

She sighed. “My contract with the theatre was up and they chose not to renew and Julian and I broke up so there really was no point in me staying in Windenburg anymore. Oasis Springs is where my family is and I want Liam to grow up around his family.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?” I asked, feeling really annoyed. She could have told me all this instead of lying about bad weather. “You could have told me the truth. Did you think I wouldn’t let you two stay here if you told me that?”

“You’re standing here right now because of Michael. I know he doesn’t want us here. I know you guys had an argument just now about me and this is exactly what I was trying to avoid. I don’t want to cause any more problems for you two.”

“That’s not the point Lyra. You lied, unnecessarily at that.”

“I didn’t want to talk about the breakup with Julian on your wedding day because I didn’t want you to worry. Plus I thought I would be out of here by the time you and Michael got back from your honeymoon but I couldn’t get a job and I can’t afford my own place without one.”

“I could have helped you with that…”

“No, I can’t do that to you. I’ve taken advantage of you too many times Mai. Aden offered to let Liam and I stay at his house. It’s got four bedrooms and he’s hardly ever there because he travels so often so I won’t be putting him out or in his way. I didn’t tell you the truth because…I didn’t want you to think I was still a complete screwup! I wanted to have some things in place before I tell you what happened.”

I was still ticked off that she didn’t tell me the truth but I guess I could understand why she didn’t. “So what happened with Julian? People break up all the time. I wouldn’t think you were a screw up because it didn’t work out.”

“There’s more to it than that.” She took a deep breath and began, “When my contract wasn’t renewed I considered moving back home since I didn’t have a job anymore. Julian told me I could move in with him, he wanted to take our relationship to the next level. He…he proposed and I said yes.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, so I moved in with him and it was great at first but then…”

“Then what?”

“He would get so…angry with Liam. He would shout at him and…I mean he’s just a baby. He can barely talk, how is he supposed to know what the rules are? Liam went into his grandfather’s old room and made a small mess on the floor with some paint. He got so mad! It was just a small mess and I get why he was upset but…he hit him, Mai!”

I gasped. “Lyra…no!”

“He tried to do it again but I stopped him. Then he told me that I needed to get my son in order before he does. He put his hands on my son, Mai! If I wasn’t there…if I had left Liam alone with him…”

“It’s not your fault,” I said.

“Of course it is!” She cried out. “I put my child in danger by moving in with Julian! Because I chose the wrong guy…again! I should have been more observant. The signs were there. He never played with Liam, only bought him toys. Now that I think about it that was probably to impress me more than it was to be nice to my kid. I thought that because we knew each other since high school, that because he seemed to love me so much…I thought he automatically loved Liam too…I screwed up Mai! I screwed up big time!”

“No, don’t be so hard on yourself…”

“This must be like karma or something. Some kind of payback for what I did to you and Michael. I just wish Liam didn’t have to pay for my sins like this. This is why I came back. I packed up my things and left his house with Liam that night and threw the ring back in his face. He didn’t even try to stop me. He wished me luck and said no other man would want a schlampe like me with a bastard child as a burden.”

I swear I felt like tracking down that Julian Villareal and beating him unconscious with my cast iron skillet! I was so mad. How dare he treat my sweet little nephew like that! How dare he say such things to my sister!

“You did the right thing Lyra. Neither of you deserved what happened, especially Liam, but you did what a good mother would do. You got him out of there! There are plenty of women who choose their abusive boyfriends over their kids. You’re not a screw-up, okay. You couldn’t have known he would be so disgusting and when you found out you left. I’m proud of you for doing right by your son. Liam is lucky to have you as his mother.”

She shook her head. “I don’t think so. He could do so much better than me…”

“No way! I see how you are with him. You’re so patient even when he’s kicking up a fuss. I’ve seen the tantrums. I don’t know how you do it, honestly.”

She smiled brightly, “He’s just hyperactive, that’s all. He’s not a bad kid.”

“I know that. It’s because he has you as his mother. Don’t sell yourself short and stop punishing yourself. Children are very resilient. I’m sure Liam doesn’t even remember what happened and pretty soon he won’t even remember what’s-his-face!”

“Thanks Mai,” She pulled me in for a hug. “I thought you would be upset with me.”

“I am upset but not with you, with that bastard! But don’t worry, pretty soon you’ll find the right guy. The one who will love you and Liam and he will never hurt either one of you.”

She shrugged. “I don’t know about that. I think I’m done with dating for a while. Obviously, I don’t know how to pick ‘em so I’m just gonna focus on myself and being a good mother.”

“You sure you can do that? Give up men?” Ever since high school, Lyra has gone from one guy to another and being so attractive and confident has made it easy for her to land any guy she wanted.

“Yup, I’ve got a good toy. I’ll be fine.” She laughed.

Talk about T-M-I! I didn’t really need to know that much but at least she was no longer beating herself up. I told Michael what happened and he was just as upset as I was when he heard what Julian did. I think hearing about what she went through made him ease up on her a little. I guess he felt bad for her. He even started talking to her more and soon they were actually getting along.

Liam started calling him ‘Uncoo My’ which is his way of saying, Uncle Mike. He absolutely loves giving his Uncoo My hugs. It’s the sweetest thing! It’s also such a relief for me. Lyra was still moving into Aden’s house as soon as he came back into town but at least with Michael getting along with her and getting closer to Liam, I felt relieved that I wouldn’t need to sacrifice time with my sister and nephew for Michael’s sake.

“Thank you.” I said to him.

“For what?”

“For putting aside your issues with Lyra.”

“I was just holding on. She apologised and after what she’s been through I decided to accept it and give her another shot. I know having a relationship with her is important to you, so it’s the least I can do.”

“I love you!” I went in to hug him.

“I love you too! By the way, Liam is the cutest. Is he making you reconsider your stance on having a baby right now?”

I pulled back. I knew this was going to come up again since he’d been spending so much time with Liam. “Hold your horses, mister. He’s not that cute. We’re both far too busy for a baby right now.”

“Sure about that? Maybe we should give Liam a little cousin close in age to play with.”

“He’s got enough cousins already. He has Amiyah next door and he’s got Nate and Justine’s son.”

“But he can always have another.” He winked playfully.

“When he’s in elementary school, he can get cousin from us. Not right now.” As much as I wanted a baby with Michael, I knew right now wasn’t a good time. Someday in the future, we’ll expand our family but right now I wanted to focus on my first baby. My restaurant.

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