In honor of the launch of Totlandia / Book 2 (Winter) , Book 1 (Fall) is FREE, for two days ony on, Amazon!
Book 2 picks up right where Book 1 left off. Now that one mother has been eliminated, the five remaining mommies are just one misstep away from entry into the elite Pacific Heights Moms & Tots Club. Everyone has a scandalous secret to hide, but who will be the next to fall?
As the club's founder, Bettina, ratchets up the stress level with a series of holiday-themed challenges, the cracks begin to show. Jade's past catches up to her in the most unlikely of settings. Jillian's struggles to make ends meet are complicated by Bettina's demands. Ally's work and home lives collide, threatening to expose all of her secrets. And Lorna's already fraying family ties are torn to shreds by a series of devastating events.
With just four spots remaining, will the five remaining ladies turn cutthroat? Or will their newfound friendships be strong enough to help them band together?
Monday, 5 November, 10:23 a.m.
The Tot Tales storytime moderator at the Marina branch of the San Francisco Library certainly had her hands full reading over the bickering pair of three-year-olds whose short attention spans had deteriorated into wrestling in the back of the reading room. Otherwise, she had a captive audience of forty toddlers, including all of the PHM&T’s probationary Onesies—Dante, Wills, Oliver, Amelia, Addison and Zoe.
It had been Jillian’s turn to host today’s Onesies’ meet-up. Now that San Francisco’s weather had turned iffy, the fifty families who made up the Pacific Heights Moms & Tots Club congregated less frequently at Alta Plaza or Moscone or Lafayette parks on its playgroup days (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays). Instead, the club split itself up by tot age—ten families per ‘class’—and met according to that day’s events.
For example, while the Fivesies fed sardines to the recovering seals at the Marine Mammal Center, the Foursies found inspiration at the DeYoung Museum from the costumes worn by the ballet dancer, Rudolf Nureyev. And while the Threesies resisted the urge to swat the butterflies roaming freely through the California Academy of Science’s rainforest, the Twosies squealed in delight at a Disney on Ice show at the Cow Palace.
The Legacy Onesies mothers—those who had older children in PHM&T’s other playgroups—were allowed to take their younger children on their older children’s field trips. To their way of thinking, that was a good thing. Until this ghastly contest was over, they had all shied away from getting close to any of the Probationary Onesies. Making a new friend only to have her exiled from the club two months later wasn’t worth the risk of any future awkwardness in a Whole Foods aisle or in some ladies’ room queue at the symphony’s annual Black and White Ball.
This mindset left the Probationary Onesies to fend for themselves. Whereas all the other playgroups chose an event that required an outlay of cash, Jillian had chosen the tot reading because it was a freebie. Her own financial situation was dire, given her pending divorce. In fact, she was keeping the divorce a secret from the PHM&T applications committee, who would certainly frown upon it. Single moms weren’t welcomed into the club because they made those who enjoyed wedded bliss uncomfortable from all that bitterness emanating from the divorcees. Not to mention events where spouses were included would suddenly seem awkward.
Jillian knew the wisdom of keeping her mouth shut.
From the looks of things, the kids were enjoying themselves. The reader was quite animated. Oliver, Zoe, Dante, Amelia and Addison, as well as little Wills, had crawled on the mat until they were right next to her, enraptured with the way her voice brought the various characters alive.
Their parents, too, listened quietly and happily. Soon though, another presence could be felt in the room. Jillian seemed the first to pick up on it. Glancing behind her, she noticed that Bettina stood silently behind them. From her blank expression, it was hard to determine how she’d rate the event.
Jillian waved hesitantly. Bettina nodded at her, motioning her to rouse the other mothers and follow her into the library’s adjoining alcove.
They were met with a grand smile. “So great to see you and your little ones having such a wonderful time! Who arranged your meet-up today?”
The others nodded or murmured toward Jillian, who practically glowed.
“Well done, Jillian,” Bettina continued. “But sadly there will be points off for the fact that the PHM&T toddlers are being exposed to children outside the club.”
“Why?” Jillian asked, confused.
“These so-called ‘free’ events have their price, too. It is usually an emotional cost. For example, the storyteller’s performance is somewhat uninspired. I’m guessing she has been booed at many a child’s birthday party. Not to mention the exposure of our little ones to the bad behavioral habits of some of the more rambunctious children in the room.”
Lorna laughed. “Okay, so the storyteller will never be up for an Oscar, but I doubt our children picked up on that. All I know is that they’re having a great time. And I’m sure there are just as many rambunctious toddlers in the California Academy of Science’s rainforest—none of whom belong to PHM&T.”
Right then and there, Lorna had made Kelly’s point for her—that she was undermining Bettina’s authority with the other Onesies moms.
“My dear, getting into the Academy is not free. That makes a big difference.” After making her point to her sister-in-law, Bettina’s eyes swept over the other mothers. “You’ve been fairly warned.”
The silence that followed had nothing to do with the fact that they were in a library, and everything to do with the fact that each of them was processing Bettina’s threat.
“On a lighter note, I’ve come up with a wonderful way for you to choose the club-wide event you’ll host.” Bettina pulled out a small-lidded candy dish from her purse. Inside were tiny folded slips of paper. “Each of you will choose one of these. A budget is included. The necessary funds come from our annual dues. Except for the after-Thanksgiving potluck, the budget allows for food and decorations. However, you must decorate, coordinate, and host it on your own. And remember, creativity is key, but organization is just as important. The best part—your event’s success is yours, too!”
What she didn’t say was implicit—fail, and you get axed.
She held the dish out toward the other women.
They exchanged wary looks. Then Ally nodded, timidly reaching into the small bowl. “It says ‘Parents’ Holiday Party, Friday, December 14th.’”
“Wonderful! What could be better? Food, folks, and fun!” Bettina continued, “I’ll email you with the details of the location. By the way, your budget allows for a caterer.”’
After the chastisement she’d just received, Jillian considered waiting until last, but then thought better of it. Picking next would give her more options. She reached in, pulling out a tiny slip. “‘Santa’s Visit to the Children, Monday, December 10th.’” She sighed with relief.
Lorna frowned with concern. “Um…doesn’t the club have a few members who aren’t Christian? How do they feel about Santa?”
“In fact, Jillian, your event should also include Kwanzaa and Hanukkah rites, and some Christmas caroling. In other words, think multi-cultural! But no need for Hanukkah to run the full eight days, since our children’s attention spans are at the most an hour or two.”
Jillian nodded slowly. Everyone was sure she hadn’t been mulling the details of an eight-day extravaganza. Still, it was good that Bettina had spelled it out for her.
“My turn,” Kelly said. After pulling a folded slip, she frowned. “Oh. The After-Thanksgiving Potluck.”
“Easy-peasy,” Bettina assured her. “We hold it at the Presidio Golf Club’s café. No need for a caterer because members bring the food, which you’ll coordinate by monitoring PHM&T’s online dish sign-up sheet. In the last week, you’ll arbitrarily assign a dish category to those laggards who haven’t signed up. And you’ll be in charge of decorating the clubhouse with a Thanksgiving theme. By yourself, of course.”
Kelly’s smile faded. Obviously, she hadn’t counted on a task with so many moving parts.
“My turn!” Jade put her hand into the bowl and pulled out a tiny slip. “Oh! I have the club’s pumpkin patch visit.”
“Excellent,” Bettina said. “I’m sure you’ll do a great job explaining the lore around fall harvest. Lots of hands-on fun for our children, what with pony rides and the cornfield maze.”
“Last but not least, I’m sure,” said Lorna, reaching in for the last slip of paper. “I have the coordination of the Recipe Book fundraiser.”
“Aren’t you lucky! With your top-notch organizational skills, it should be a breeze,” Bettina exclaimed. “Let’s see, that means you’ll be in charge of editing the recipes for our cookbook fundraiser. Just think, Lorna! You’ll get so many great ideas to enhance those tired old standbys you insist on preparing for the holidays! Oh, that’s not to imply that your own culinary skills are lacking in any way. It’s nice to polish up on them now and then. You know, just to keep from getting stale.”
As if validating this premise, Kelly gave Lorna a sympathetic pat on the wrist.
Lorna almost jerked her arm away. She had a niggling feeling she shouldn’t trust Kelly, despite the woman’s numerous attempts to ingratiate herself to Lorna. It was obvious to everyone that Kelly and Bettina were close. And just the other day, after Chakra’s dismissal, Bettina had asked Kelly to stay behind while the rest of the group dispersed.
No, something was not right. She could just feel it. Still, if she acted suspicious of Kelly just because she and Bettina were close, she might be hurting her chances of staying in the club.
Lorna smiled, masking her frustration. “You’re right, Bettina. And since it’s the club’s most important charity fundraiser of the year, I’ll do my best to make it an even bigger success than it’s ever been. It’s raised so little money in the past.”
There, she’d thrown down the gauntlet. She’d best Bettina with her pet project.
Bettina’s worried scowl was priceless.
© 2012 Josie Brown. Published in 2012 by Coliloquy Books. All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.