Flowers on Main

By: Sherryl Woods
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B ree O’Brien sank her fingers into the rich, dark soil and lifted up a handful so she could breathe in the scent of it. This was real, not like the shallow world in which she’d been struggling to make a name for herself for the past six years. Gardening was something she understood. Plants could be coaxed along with water and fertilizer and loving attention in ways that a theater production could not. A vase of flowers, artfully arranged, had only to please the recipient, not an entire audience, each of them a critic in one way or another.

She’d been relieved when her sister Abby had called her about the opening of the Inn at Eagle Point, now owned by their sister Jess. It had given her the perfect excuse to flee Chicago, where her last play had been savaged by the critics and closed a mere week after it had opened. In six years she’d had one regional theater triumph and two box-office and critical disasters.

Some playwrights might be thrilled to have just one big success, even far, far off Broadway, but Bree had always wanted more. She’d expected to be up there with Neil Simon, Noel Coward…heck, even Arthur Miller. Of course, that had been after her first success, when she was way too full of herself. She’d thought herself capable of Simon’s comedic timing, Coward’s wit and Miller’s complex dramatic skill. There’d even been a few critics who’d shared that opinion.

That had made it all the more humbling when the second play had received only lukewarm praise and a shortened one-month run. The third had been skewered by those very same critics who’d sung her praises earlier. Her first play was suddenly being called a fluke. More than one suggested she was washed up at the age of twenty-seven.

She’d been relieved that no one in the family had been in Chicago for the play’s opening to witness her downfall or to see the reviews that had followed. She wouldn’t have been able to bear watching them struggle to be supportive. It was awful enough that everyone at the theater had been a part of the most humiliating moment of her career. None of the actors had even been able to look her in the eye as the director—her lover, for goodness’ sake—had read review after scathing review at the opening-night party before finally crumpling up the papers and tossing them in the trash.

One of these days, she supposed she’d muster up enough confidence to sit down in front of her computer and try again, but for now she was happy to be back in Chesapeake Shores, in familiar surroundings, with her family fussing over her just because they loved her and not because they knew her life was in shambles. She’d needed girl time with her sisters, a rousing game of tag football and nonstop teasing with her brother Connor and his buddies, and a chance to hug her nieces—Abby’s twin daughters.

She’d needed to be back home even more than she’d realized, back in her old room where the only writing she’d ever done was in her diary or stories and plays written for her own satisfaction and no one else’s eyes.

What she’d also needed, but hadn’t admitted to a soul, was distance between herself and acclaimed playwright and director Martin Demming, a mentor for a time, a lover even longer. Lately, though, the relationship hadn’t been working. Maybe she was already raw and overly sensitive after those vicious reviews, but it seemed to her he’d taken an almost gloating satisfaction in her failure. She hadn’t been prepared for that.

So, here she was, three weeks after the opening of Jess’s inn, kneeling in her grandmother’s garden, yanking out weeds and letting the warmth of the sun soak into her bare and protectively sunscreened shoulders. For the first time in months, the tension that knotted there had finally eased. She felt…She searched for the right word, then realized it was content. She felt content with herself, even with her life, despite the current upheaval. She couldn’t recall the last time she’d felt that way.

Oblivious for now to all the warnings about sun damage and Marty’s constant and annoying admonitions about ruining her pale-as-Irish-cream complexion, she turned her face up to the sun and felt it ease the headache that came whenever she thought about the life she’d left behind.

Even as the thought surfaced, her hands stilled and she gasped slightly. Had she left it behind? All of it? Chicago? The theater? The writing? Marty? Had she really left it forever? Could she uproot herself from the world that had meant everything just a few short months ago? Was that what she was doing here, on her knees in the dirt, days after she was supposed to return to the life she’d always dreamed of? Was she giving up? Hiding out? Or merely licking her wounds before going back into the battle zone once again?

And that’s what it was, Bree realized, a battle zone, with way too many potential enemies—the producer, the director, the actors, the critics and the public, all of whom had their own views on what her work was or ought to be. Some days everything came together in an amazing collaboration. At other times, it was a highly charged emotional war with all of her carefully crafted words, scenes and motivations picked apart by those who thought they knew best.

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