A/N: This is a bonus update that isn’t canon to the current plot. There will be another story update tomorrow. Also, check back here on Tuesday for our first canon Interlude chapter, written as a thank you for checking in and reading this story so far!
When they drove into Ellie’s neighborhood in her mom’s beat-up car, Shreya Azima didn’t think things could get any worse.
The sedan clunked its way around the cul-de-sac, circling to a stop in front of her new friend’s house. Although Ellie liked to downplay it, her home looked like a Home & Garden magazine cut-out. The lawn trees were so well-placed that Shreya had a feeling they were fully grown imports, hand-selected by Hilda Navarrete herself.
From what Shreya had heard, Hilda Navarrete was a powerhouse of a woman. She’d been the heir to Navarrete Inc., taking it over after her father’s passing. He’d driven their agricultural supply business to the ground, thanks to shady deals with the wrong people. Insider trading had been the final nail in Navarrete Inc.’s coffin, that is until Hilda stepped up to take the reins. Hilda gave Navarrete Inc. the Lazarus treatment. She turned their company around and restrengthened their reputation through urban farming initiatives, partnering with local schools to show down-and-out children the agricultural business.
It was hard to picture Ellie as her daughter, but Shreya supposed she could relate on that regard. Mothers and daughters didn’t always match up. She glanced over at her mother, Pravaah. Pravaah’s hands tensed on the steering wheel.
“So this is where you’ve been going after school?” Pravaah didn’t have to ask that. She knew the answer. “Is her mother home?”
Shreya squirmed. Shanti’s big mouth had gotten her in trouble. Her sister caught her sneaking out one night, and the rest was history. Shanti went and snitched on her, in the hopes of lessening her own punishment for doing the same. Normally, they would’ve gotten away with what they were doing, but Pravaah had come home early from her second job. Said job had given her off today, and that’s why they were here, looking terribly out-of-place pulled up behind a car that was worth twice as much as the annual rent on their apartment.
“Is she?” Pravaah repeated herself. She stared at her daughter through her sunglasses. The sunglasses reflected Shreya’s face and all of its nervousness along with it.
“I don’t know…”
Someone knocked on her window. She jumped in her seat.
“Hello, it’s so good to see you.” Hilda stood outside of their car. Her cadence was as prim as ever. “Ellie’s busy out back with the dogs. I thought it’d be better for me to tell you that so you don’t have to wait here for too long.” She wore a cardigan over a checkered blouse.
Shreya opened her door and scrambled out. Freedom. She turned to say goodbye to her mother, only to see her mom leaving the car for some reason. Pravaah stepped out and around it to meet Hilda, her hand out-stretched for a shake. Both of the older women being of Amazonian heights made Shreya suddenly very conscious of her average one. Her world shrunk, just like that.
“I’m Pravaah Azima. I am glad to finally meet you,” her mother said, her accent causing her to over-enunciate her words. Shreya rarely heard her mother speak English, and every time she did, it was jarring to say the least.
“Likewise,” Hilda replied. She gave her a firm shake. “Shreya told me that your family’s new to Stockbrunn City. How are you liking it so far?”
“I’ve been too busy to enjoy much of it, but I like what I’ve seen so far,” Pravaah answered.
“Oh, I know the feeling,” Hilda chuckled. “Sometimes I wish life came with a pause button.”
“I say the same thing!” Pravaah smiled. To Shreya’s shock and horror, her mother actually smiled, a feat she didn’t know she was capable of doing. “Have you seen the movie Click?”
No, Mom, stop. This woman doesn’t have time to watch stupid Adam Sandler movies. There’s no way she’s—
“Yes! I cried.” Hilda got a far away look in her eyes. “The message behind that movie… I’ll be honest and say that it touched my soul.”
“It is why we should never have a remote.” Pravaah shook her head. “Rewinding and fastforwarding life is not good. Even so, I still think of what it’d be like to have that power.”
Hilda hummed in thought. “Hey, would you like to come inside and have some tea? I just finished brewing some.”
Shreya hoped Pravaah would be gracious in her refusal. Her mother never gave anyone the time of day. Friendships weren’t her thing. A single mother, her life was focused on work and family. Sure, she’d yak on the phone for hours with the people from back home but she didn’t know anyone in Stockbrunn City. There’d be no way she’d say—
“What is the flavor? I love tea.”
“It’s hibiscus tea.”
“I’d like that very much, thank you.” Pravaah took off her sunglasses. “And I thank you very much for allowing Shreya into your home all of these weeks.”
“It’s not a problem! She’s been like a second daughter to me. Ellie and her are such good friends.”
“Good, good. I was worried moving here that Shreya wouldn’t make any friends,” Pravaah said. “She’s my quiet one.”
Shreya’s ears burned. In all of their mother-to-mother bonding, did they forget she was there? She looked over at Ellie’s open door, hoping that she’d finish up with the dogs and rescue her.
“Do you have other kids?” Hilda asked.
“Twins. Her sister’s a handful, but I love them both,” Pravaah said. She patted Shreya on the back. Not knowing what to do, Shreya mustered up the best smile she could. “It’s nice to see Shreya have a friend.”
“I have friends,” Shreya spoke up for herself.
“Shanti and her boyfriend don’t count,” Pravaah teased.
“I was worried about my Ellie not having friends, either. I feel the same as you,” Hilda admitted. “After her girlfriend shipped off to boarding school a couple years ago, she…let’s just say it was like she gave up on being happy.”
Shreya’s eyebrows shot up. Ellie hadn’t let her in on that. She’d been secretive about her past, to the point where she didn’t have a Facebook, Instagram, or anything else. They could only keep in touch through texting and phone calls.
“That must’ve been hard for you. We have an expression in my language, it’s…” Pravaah switched away from English to finish her sentence.
Shreya translated, “when children are sad, their mothers are a thousand times as sad.”
“So true,” Hilda said. “This is why I have to thank you for moving here. I honestly feel like the old Ellie’s coming back. It’s all because of your daughter.”
“No, thank you. It’s your daughter who has changed mine.”
“Yo!” A voice called out from the front steps. Shreya couldn’t stop the stupid smile from forming on her face. Ellie, her rescuer, had finally showed up with her Lassie-looking dog in tow. Shreya nearly raced towards her, before remember her manners mid-step.
“Is it okay if I, um, go now?” She asked her mother.
“You go ahead. Have fun,” Pravaah shoved her forward. Shreya took off. Pravaah turned to Hilda, and asked, “does that tea offer still stand?”
“Of course it does,” Hilda said. “Hey, did you happen to see Pixels?”
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A/N: For this week’s vote, we’re going to determine which character gets an Interlude chapter on Tuesday. An Interlude chapter can explore things that were happening concurrently with other chapters, things that happened between chapters, or show us a moment in a character’s life.
Please remember to vote on Topwebfiction. It helps new people discover this serial.
Also, as mentioned earlier, there will be another post tomorrow. It was put together through a live writing experiment where I polled people as I was writing. If you missed the first live writing session, keep an eye out for future sessions!
The poll will end Sunday, April 3rd at 11:59 PM EST.