Savvy Sheldon spends a lot of time tiptoeing around the cracks in her life: her high-stress and low-thanks job, her clueless boyfriend and the falling-apart kitchen she inherited from her beloved grandma—who taught her how to cook and how to love people by feeding them. But when Savvy’s world starts to crash down around her, she knows it’s time for some renovations.
Starting from the outside in, Savvy tackles her crumbling kitchen, her relationship with her body, her work–life balance (or lack thereof) and, last but not least, her love life. The only thing that doesn’t seem to require effort is her ride-or-die squad of friends. But as any home-reno-show junkie can tell you, something always falls apart during renovations. First, Savvy passes out during hot yoga. Then it turns out that the contractor she hires is the same sexy stranger she unintentionally offended by judging based on appearances. Worst of all, Savvy can’t seem to go anywhere without tripping over her ex and his latest “upgrade.” Savvy begins to realize that maybe she should’ve started her renovations the other way around: beginning with how she sees herself before building a love that lasts.
“Shit!” Savvy whispered. A bubble of bacon grease popped on her arm, and she jumped back. Rubbing away the grease, she turned down the white knob on her gas stove to calm the crackling bacon, flipping thick slices of applewood-smoked goodness with a pair of tongs. Crisper this time.
Other than her occasional muttered curses, the only sounds in the house came from the sizzling on the stove and the deep hum of a cranky old refrigerator. The kind of hum that keeps you guessing whether it actually still functions. Tugging on the door, she ducked her head in to pull out baby portobello mushrooms, fresh spinach, and a red bell pepper from the crisper. She grabbed Gruyère cheese, a carton of eggs, and a pint of fresh strawberries, closing the door slowly to avoid its signature creak.
Savvy skillfully ran her chef’s knife through mushrooms, peppers, and onion more slowly than usual. She took great care not to wake the man sleeping down the hall. She eyed the black silk camisole and lacy short set hanging nearby, and a shiver of excitement ran down her spine. She looked down at Jason’s old basketball shirt, a relic from some college intramural tournament that he and his boys played in. Not exactly a seductive look. Whoever those guys were that enjoyed women with their hair tied back and no makeup on, Jason was not one of them.
She separated egg yolks from whites and tossed the veggies into a heated omelet pan, adding handfuls of fresh spinach as they softened, then the beaten egg whites a moment later. Using a handheld cheese grater, curls of Gruyère sprinkled onto the omelet, slowly expanding and flattening into a melty pool.
Savvy had moved into her childhood home eight months ago, right after Mama moved to San Jose with her new husband, leaving it empty. Very little had changed in the house since her childhood. Carpets still covered pristine hardwood floors, and plastic runners lined the hallway leading to the bedrooms. Dingy from years of wear and tear, the edges of the runners were yellowed with age. Mama’s house, with its floral decor, took clutter to hoarding levels—she never threw anything away.
The faded yellow paint on the walls, dry and peeling, reminded Savvy of the lists of contractors Mama had given her, tucked between the milk crate and the French press. She intended to renovate the house to make it feel more like her own, but work was too busy to take on a project. The tea kettle hissed hot steam, and she snatched it from the stove before whistling interrupted the morning quiet. Boiling water cascaded over finely ground Kona coffee, the aroma carrying just enough caffeine to raise her energy level.
After peeking over her shoulder, Savvy reached into the oven and grabbed a slice of chewy bacon from the tray. If it’s eaten straight from the pan, it has no calories. These are the Bacon Rules.
Sliced strawberries and cubed mangoes with a chiffonade of fresh mint joined the omelet and crispy bacon, making for a colorful, drool-worthy presentation. Savvy ran a paper towel around the rim of the plate before capturing the aesthetic for her IG Story.
She kicked off her slippers and lifted the enormous T-shirt over her head before realizing with a flash of embarrassment that the kitchen curtains were wide open. She rushed to shut them, stubbing her toe on a loose piece of tile and yelling silently into the morning. Once she regained her composure, she slipped the camisole over her head, sucking in her breath and running her fingers over the slightly taut, black fabric. Don’t overthink it, Savvy. With her silky cream kimono robe with pale pink peonies framing her sexy new pj’s and Jason’s meal on an enameled wooden tray, she shook out her hair one last time and headed down the hall.
“Good morning, Baby I have breakfast for you,” Savvy cooed softly as she reached the doorway.
Jason opened his eyes slowly, rolling toward her onto his side as he yawned. “How long you been up, Savs?” His beard was flattened on his left side from being pressed into the pillow. He smoothed a hand over the crown of his head, flattening the top of his fade, then grabbed his phone before turning to look at her. Jason took in her attempt at seduction, his deep voice thick from sleep. “What you got on?”
Dammit. “Just something new. I thought you’d like it. I was up for maybe an hour?” she lied. More like two. “Couldn’t get back to sleep, so I thought I’d surprise you.” Setting the tray on the nightstand, she stole a quick kiss.
“I taste bacon on your lips.” He dug into his plate, shoving bacon and mango into his mouth at the same time. His hooded eyes chastised her before returning back to his meal.
How does he even taste his own food eating that fast? She sat down next to him with a bowl of fresh fruit, resting her pedicured toes on the edge of the bed frame. “What do you have going on today?”
“Need to stop by my momma’s after she gets out of church, go home and walk Ginger, and then play a couple of pickup games with the fellas. What’s on your plate today? You cookin’ tonight?” He crunched through his bacon with enthusiasm, moving half of his omelet onto a piece of toast.
“I need to check on my uncle before I go shopping for some work clothes. You could come over for dinner later.”
He grunted, looking up from his omelet on toast, cheeks threatening to burst. “What you cookin’?” he repeated.
She rolled her eyes as she fixed her mouth to give him options, but her phone pinged.
Jason hit her with a side-eye, shaking his head. His mouth bursting with food. “Is that who I think it is?” His voice peaked, like a kid three seconds away from a tantrum.
Grabbing her phone from the nightstand, Savvy eyed him carefully. “Yes, Babe, it is.” Her voice calm, she scrutinized the request from her boss. He needed data about insured millennials to present to a new insurance client, and she’d forgotten to incorporate that into her presentation slides.
“He’s interrupting quality time, Savvy.” Jason stood, bare chested in basketball shorts, his deep voice booming with displeasure. Athletic, but not overly muscular, he ran his fingers over his flat stomach, stretching his long limbs, as she pounded away on her phone’s keyboard with her thumbs. “Why am I just waking up on Sunday morning, and you’re already working?”
Shit. “Just one sec, Jay, I promise.” Biting her lip, she ran through report data in her head to pinpoint the figures her boss wanted. She’d always had a good memory for numbers. She typed her response as quickly as her thumbs allowed, noting that she would be in the office for a few hours in the afternoon if he had any additional questions. Jason didn’t need to know that last part. “There, see? Done.” Savvy smiled up at him, willing him to sit next to her.
He did. “I don’t know anyone else who is okay with their boss interrupting their weekend. He can’t just wait till tomorrow?”
“Well, I’m not working now…” Nuzzling his shoulder, she traced her fingertips down his back. “You know, Babe, I was hoping that we could…you know.” The kimono robe slipped suggestively, exposing her shoulders.
Jason avoided eye contact as he handed Savvy his empty tray. “You ain’t got time for all that, Boss Lady.” Tsking, he shook his head, making his way to the bathroom. The sound of a shower curtain being shoved aside and water raining from the showerhead followed. As steam spread across the bathroom mirror, he called out to her. “You should probably see if you can take them clothes back. Fit’s too tight.”
Savvy set the tray down on the bed next to her, then stood, wrapping the kimono tightly around her middle. Shoulders rounded, she returned to the kitchen with Jason’s empty plate, helping herself to another slice of perfect, chewy bacon. So much for quality time.
Jason left as Savvy showered, calling out to her that he’d come back for dinner. After getting ready, she pulled containers of last night’s leftovers out of the fridge and shoved them into a heavy cloth grocery bag. Baked chicken breasts with sautéed mushrooms covered in a marsala wine sauce. Parmesan and asparagus risotto. Mixed greens with grape tomatoes and a mason jar of fresh lemon and shallot vinaigrette. After grabbing her purse and a sealed envelope from her desk, she walked out into the sunshine. The sky swirled a perfect blue, a breeze ruffled through the treetops kissing wind chimes on her neighbor’s porch. A good-looking Black man in dusty jeans, a torn T-shirt, and work boots walked by with a beautiful chocolate Lab. He raised a hand in greeting as they strolled by, and she nodded in response.
Her surroundings changed from lush greenery to concrete skyscrapers and industrial buildings, as she navigated south on the 5 freeway, past Downtown LA. Spotting USC on her right, she threw a strong side-eye at the home of the Trojans. Bruin blood for life, baby.
Big brick buildings blurred into dilapidated warehouses and older residential neighborhoods. Exiting at Century Boulevard, she steered toward Uncle’s house, which he’d inherited from Savvy’s grandparents, since Granny and PopPop had already bought the Los Feliz house for Savvy, her mom, and her brothers. Mama complained that Uncle’s place was an old money pit, always needing repairs, but Unc and Savvy loved that house.
Pulling up in the driveway, she took in the dip in the roof that Uncle described on the phone. He’d sunk the last of his savings into the front porch when the steps needed replacing. The upkeep crept up faster now, but there was no letting go of Granny and PopPop’s most prized possession.
Whenever she needed money in college, Savvy’d called her uncle to avoid stressing Mama, who worked hard to put three kids through school. Unc helped whenever he could, treating her like the daughter he never had. Now, with the stability she found at work, Savvy reciprocated as often as she could, while still building a renovation fund for her own house.
Walking up the steps, Savvy looked through the screen door into the sitting room. “Unc! Where you at?”
“Now, why do you always have to holler like you ain’t got no home training?” Uncle’s husky voice rang with amusement. He leaned hard against a crutch, swinging open the screen door for her to walk through.
Savvy grinned at him, planting a big kiss on his cheek as she walked past. “Any home training I received was undone by a certain someone.” In her childhood, Unc had been her hero; he helped to raise her and her brothers when their dad took off. Ma’s older brother, Uncle Joe always came by to check on them. When money ran short, he stepped in and made sure they were never without.
“Mmm-hmm.” His smile twitched at the corners of his mouth. “What you up to today, Baby Girl?”
Inside, her uncle’s security uniform hung on the back of a chair in a plastic cover from the dry cleaner. A retired police officer, he’d taken on part-time work as a night watchman for an office building in Inglewood. On his limited retirement pay and meager income handling security, making ends meet had been a challenge, especially after he got injured on the job. At the time, Savvy had shaken her head at his explanation. “They vandalized the side of the building—of course I chased after them.” Who did he think he was, Usain Bolt? Unc sprained his ankle running after the vandals, and, under doctor’s orders, had to take time off until he could put full weight on his foot.
Savvy waved her bag of food containers at him, carrying it into the kitchen. She put the containers in the fridge and placed the sealed envelope on the Formica countertop; she had written “ROOF” on the front with a Sharpie. “I’m supposed to run an errand, but I think I’m just going to go into the office for a few hours. How was your week?”
He stood in the doorway, rolling his eyes. “I’m bored. I want to be back at work, but they want me to be off the crutches first.”
“I support that decision.”
“Yeah, well. Ain’t got much to do, other than checkin’ in on Mabel.”
Her eyebrows shot up. “Miss Mabel, huh?” Mabel Winslow lived across the street from Savvy’s grandparents’ house most of her life. Like Unc, Miss Mabel grew up in her house.
She’d moved away when she married but returned after a bad divorce to help care for her parents. When her parents passed within a month of each other, they left Mabel the house and their golden retriever, Samson. A smile curved across her lips. “You’ve been jonesing after Miss Mabel since I was in high school. Tell me you finally asked her out.”
Uncle Joe shook his head, fighting a smile, his upper lip curled slightly with amusement. “I’m a gentleman, Baby Girl.”
“Uh, gentlemen go on dates, Unc.” She winked at him, coaxing laughter.
“We ain’t there yet. I just stopped by to see how she’s doing. You know she was in that car accident a couple weeks ago. Tweaked her back.”
“Is she okay?” She leaned against the counter.
“Says she is, but I think she might need a couple rounds of physical therapy. Doesn’t hurt to make sure she’s fully recovered.”
Savvy eyed her uncle. “Sounds like somebody can dish advice he isn’t willing to take…”
He tsked, pursing his lips at her. “Thank you for the help with the roof, but listen, Baby Girl. You workin’ too much. And you should be putting this money toward your own house.”
She rolled her eyes, following him into the den, where his favorite leather recliner faced a big screen TV. “You are forever saying I work too much. And I want to help, Unc.”
He sat gingerly, leaning his crutch against one of his armrests. “You need a vacation.”
“You know I work the way I do because of what I learned from you and Mama. It’s just what we do.”
“Nah. We worked hard so that you wouldn’t have to, Savvy. Your mama pushes you because she thinks you have to climb the corporate ladder to stay on it.” He wagged a finger at her.
She groaned, rolling her eyes. “Well, I am my mother’s daughter, and I feel most secure knowing that if either of you need me, I am in a position to help.”
Mama carried two, sometimes three jobs when Savvy and her brothers were little to make sure they were fed, that their shoes fit, and that they could participate in sports or other activities. Their dad had a wandering eye and left to be with another woman, leaving Mama to be Wonder Woman for the family. Savvy missed one first grade field trip due to a lack of funds, and Mama worked herself ragged to avoid that ever happening again. Pops never really got his shit together, losing touch with Savvy when he started his third family.
“The roof money is from a rainy-day fund, and if you think about it, those rainy days are exactly what we need to keep out of this house. I can do my renovations anytime.” She offered Uncle a crooked smile.
He shook his head, annoyed at her humor. “I know you’re itchin’ to redo that kitchen.”
She stood, ready to leave before he could march into an assessment of her current setup. An updated kitchen was at the very top of her bucket list. “I am. But you always came through for me. Let me do that for you.”
He pursed his lips, offered his cheek, and she leaned in to kiss it.
“You’ll be back on your feet in no time. In the meantime, call me whenever you need. Got that?”
“Mmm-hmm. Love you, Baby Girl.”
“I love you more, Uncle.” Savvy winked at him and turned to leave. “Let me know when you and Miss Mabel go out on your hot date!”
Excerpt from Savvy Sheldon Feels Good As Hell by Taj McCoy.
Copyright © 2022 by Taj McCoy.
Published by MIRA. All rights reserved.
Published by arrangement with MIRA/HarperCollins