by Kay Acker
Lauren Ashburn left a promising job to help her family in Vermont take care of her dying father. Now that he’s gone, Lauren has every intention of returning to her old life—the vibrant, successful one her father had always expected her to have. But Lauren discovers that she feels adrift without his strict guidance.
Georgia Solomon designs homes for others. But as a bisexual autistic woman, she rarely feels at home herself. When her best friend dies suddenly, leaving her alone with their young daughter, her little slice of happiness vanishes. Now Georgia finds herself struggling to navigate a world that doesn’t understand her at all.
Lauren and Georgia clash at a disastrous work meeting, but Georgia’s daughter Hannah pulls them together despite themselves. As they discover new possibilities and priorities for the future, can they make room for love? Or will they have to leave each other behind—in order for them both to move forward?
FROM THE AUTHOR
"The title Leaving’s Not the Only Way to Go is also the name of a song from a musical called Big River. I was an extra in a community theater production of the show many years ago. I was not a good actor, but I loved participating, and I loved that song in particular. When I used the song title for the short story this novel spawned from, I thought, “This is good enough for now.” Then it was the working title for the book, and as I neared completion of the first draft, I assured myself I’d come up with something else. I never did. During the editing process, I asked everyone I worked with for advice on the title, and the advice I got was, “Keep it.” I never meant to call my book by this name, but it’s the only name this book has ever had."
Kaye C. - The perspectives of the main characters in this romance is very interesting. Georgia Solomon designs homes. She is also bisexual and high functioning on the autistic spectrum. She is raising her daughter Hannah on her own after the death of her co-parent. Hannah is seven and also autistic. Georgia clashes with Lauren Ashburn, a computer programmer, when the new designing software for her company fails to work. Lauren is one of the programmers trying to fix the issues. They meet later at a bereavement therapy group. Lauren is trying to get over the death of her father who always pushed her to be more and was never satisfied with her results.
Hannah's response to a kindness from Lauren starts the women on a path to friendship and a relationship. Georgia is trying her best to raise and protect her daughter but it is hard when not everyone understands that they can't pick up on social cues, tolerate change or enjoy certain foods like everyone else. Lauren has a hard time with people herself. Together they support each other with issues including families and work.
The author does a very good job at realistically portraying autism. Lauren and Georgia are great at trying to listen to and read each other. Many things need to be explicitly stated because miscommunication can easily happen. Hannah and the supporting characters add to the story but also some conflicts. The book also has one of the funniest lines about bisexuals and hiking I've ever read. I will look forward to more books from the author.
Bonnie K. - I really enjoyed the book. I thought it was well-researched and written. The main characters Lauren and Georgia first met in a professional manner, which didn't go smoothly. However, they later meet at a group recovery meeting. Both characters has suffered a loss. Lauren's dad passed. Georgia's best friend, work partner and father to her seven-year-old autistic daughter Hannah recently passed. Now she has to raise her daughter herself. Did I forget to mention she's also autistic. Through Hannah both MC form a friendship. This is not your typical romance.
This book can also serve as an eye-opener for dealing with someone who's autistic. It was very realistic. Well done. I recommend this book. 4.5 stars.
Bonnie S. - This is one of the most compelling stories I’ve read when it comes to characters dealing with autism. Wonderful story.
Ameliah R. - So Sweet! This is a wonderful book filled with all sorts of emotions. I adored Hannah, Georgia’s daughter. She is adorable and lovable. Watching Georgia and Lauren’s growing attraction is a joy and delight. I liked watching them overcome their struggles and work together to make their dreams and hopes come true. This really well written story kept my attention throughout and left me feeling happy and contented at the end. I highly recommend this delightful story!
Megan C. - This was a very pleasant surprise. Ms Acker's novel is an impressive debut. Well written, engaging characters that feel real as well as a well paced build up of the romance.
From a romance perspective, this is a slow burn and the time Ms Acker takes building the friendship helps build the reader's engagement with the characters so that when the relationship turns to more than friends, it's a natural and believable progression and just feels right.
This is a refreshing romance that hits all the right buttons with engaging characters who are original and well developed and a nice build up of the romance. Recommended.
When the bus pulled up at the last station, ten blocks from Prysliak and Associates Architecture Company, Lauren handed the driver five quarters. The bus fare was only twenty-five cents, but Lauren always tipped a dollar because Frank was a good driver who didn’t talk to her much. That was a comfort when she was too exhausted to get around in her car safely.
“You have a good morning, Ms. Ashburn,” Frank said, pocketing the change.
Lauren rubbed her eyes under her glasses and failed to smile. “Not a chance.”
The snow piled up on the curb crunched when she jumped down from the bus. She bowed her head against the cutting breeze and tucked her bare hands deep in her coat pockets, regretting that she hadn’t taken the time to put on gloves. It was bitterly cold, and the sun was a cruel joke in the gray sky. Vermont could be beautiful, but its current winter misery set a perfect tone for the day Lauren was about to have.
Today, Lauren was presenting the untested, unacceptable crock of crap that was the Green Mountain Architecture Suite. Volunteering for this had been an intentional choice, a professional study in how to handle customers when things go wrong, because there was no way things were going to go right. They’d had nine months to build this software from scratch. Other companies would have spent a year or more, and those companies would have been specialized, not a freelance free-for-all like Green Mountain Software. Len, the CEO, had refused to admit there might be a problem with this timeline, and under the management of Felix, the problems had multiplied exponentially. No one would have run a software company like this back in Philly.
Then again, things hadn’t been going as well as Lauren had planned in Philly, either. Who was the common denominator, the most likely cause of her underwhelming career?
Lauren scraped her boots off on the mat in front of Prysliak and Associates and entered at nine twenty sharp, ten minutes early. The restored colonial house the architects worked in was almost blindingly bright, all clean white paint and hardwood flooring. The receptionist behind the wide front desk signaled for Lauren to wait a moment while she wrapped up a phone call.
“Hello,” someone else called. “Are you one of the trainers?”
A tall woman with waves of honey-blond hair was descending the stairs. The way her skirt swished allowed a glimpse of the pink Band-Aid on her right knee before Lauren averted her eyes. The woman didn’t smile or extend her hand, but her voice was cheerful when she said, “I’m Georgia Solomon, one of the architects. Welcome!”
“Lauren Ashburn. My coworker isn’t here yet.”
“It’ll take a few minutes for everyone to pull their noses out of their work and get to the meeting, anyway. Don’t worry about it. Can I show you to the conference room?”
“That conference room?” Lauren said, pointing to the clearly marked double doors.
“Yes,” Georgia said.
She headed in that direction, nodding when the receptionist waved gratefully. Her stride was long, her shoulders and hips were broad, and she didn’t try to reduce the amount of space she took up. Lauren admired that kind of presence. She kicked herself for not being more professional in front of a woman with such poise.
The conference room was paneled with natural cuts of wood, and the wide gaps were filled with chunks of white marble. Lauren instantly classified it as strange, but Georgia said, “Most of the materials we use are reclaimed or recycled, and I love the effect of the broken pieces in here. It looks like a snowy forest.”
Lauren gave the design a second look while she hung her coat on a stand by the door. She decided she agreed.
Georgia pointed out a series of photos framed on the wall. “These are from some of our previous projects.”
The pride she felt for her work shone in her eyes and the way her fingers fluttered at her sides, so Lauren looked at the photos closely. She was surprised to spot a site she recognized.
“You renovated First Congo,” she said, tapping on the framed picture of the First Congregational Church. “My parents got married there, and my dad threw a fit when they gutted it. He came around when he saw the arched doorways, though.”
Lauren realized too late that she’d revealed her lack of familiarity with the company’s work. Georgia didn’t seem to notice, or at least she didn’t mind.
“I do make a good arch,” she said. Then she latched onto another detail Lauren hadn’t meant to admit. “So you grew up in Holderness?”
Lauren nodded and moved on to the next photo without looking at Georgia. She got enough unimpressed looks from the locals who knew her; she didn’t need judgment or pity about being stuck in her hometown from a stranger.
“Is this the crew I’m gonna be working with?” she asked, pointing at a group photo. She could see Georgia among the people gathered around a solar panel array.
“Pretty much,” Georgia said. “Bev, the interior designer, is new, and Kyle is…not here.”
“He got a new job?”
That drew Lauren’s eyes back to Georgia. The woman’s face was blank, but her fingers had strayed to the ends of her hair, toying nervously. Lauren knew one was supposed to say something in these situations, but the usual platitudes made her roll her eyes at the best of times. After a month of gritting her teeth through people’s banal condolences for the recent death of her father, she might actually gag on any kind words she tried to say.
Georgia spared her the effort by muttering, “I probably shouldn’t have brought that up.”
Lauren shrugged. “I’ve said less appropriate things.”
At first she thought that was the wrong thing to say, because Georgia still didn’t smile, but then her hands relaxed and drifted back to her sides. She met Lauren’s eyes briefly. They stood together for a long, lovely moment.
It was a damn shame, because this woman was going to hate Lauren within the hour.
Georgia broke the silence between them by pointing out the environmentally friendly light fixtures in the conference room. She was explaining, with detailed hand gestures, how they worked when a tall, bear-shaped man in an L.L. Bean fleece blustered in.
“The Madisons are at it again, George,” he said, “and I think the mister is an idiot, so can you put your eye to this issue real quick before I take his head off?”
“Excuse me,” Georgia said to Lauren before telling the man, “You’d never take anyone’s head off. Describe the problem?”
It was reassuring to know that man wasn’t really a head taker-offer, because Lauren was pretty sure he was Gerald Prysliak, the man who had paid for Green Mountain’s doomed software. She watched him and Georgia walk away, deep in a jargon-filled conversation that made Gerald fume but didn’t seem to fluster Georgia at all.
Pretty and professional. Such a damn shame.
Her phone buzzed in her pocket, and she checked it, even though she knew what she’d read.
Good luck surviving your presentation! her little sister Tracy had texted. Don’t forget about the group tonight.
Lauren didn’t bother to answer. She’d already lost the argument about whether or not she should go to a bereavement group, and Tracy had worked hard to find one that was run by a queer woman after Lauren objected to the alienating spiritual approach of the group Tracy and their mother had joined. Tonight, Lauren was going to the Healing House, to sit in a circle and talk about dead people.
She turned her attention back to the light fixtures, still in awe of Georgia’s grasp of the various concepts involved. Behind her, Felix clattered into the conference room like a goon. The employees of Prysliak and Associates gathered soon after, while Lauren and Felix queued up the architecture program to project on a large screen. When all eight trainees were assembled, Lauren began.
“So, the software we’ve prepared—”
Felix’s voice boomed over hers, and Georgia visibly flinched. “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re proud to bring you the Green Mountain Architecture Suite!”
He clicked the icon on the desktop with a flourish. For five long, dreadful seconds, nothing happened, but then the program booted. Slowly. The user interface looked decent, if maybe not quite what Lauren would have made if she’d been working on that area. Each drawing tool Felix demonstrated moved smoothly, although his lines were shaky from using a track pad—not the best method, according to Lauren’s ignored research.
Georgia raised her hand and waited while Felix talked more, not noticing her. Lauren broke in and pointed to her when she had a chance.
“Are there other ways to draw on the interface? We’ve been using a tablet most of the time with our current system.”
Felix was going to show off his vast knowledge, so Lauren leapt in and answered the question simply. “Yes, there are other ways to draw, such as mouse and touch screen on applicable devices, but it’s not currently compatible with tablets.”
A few minutes later, another woman raised her hand. She introduced herself as Bev and asked where the interior design example options were. Felix had to admit there weren’t any. They were making a separate program for that, which would be available later in the year. Given that interior design was a new part of Prysliak and Associates’ offerings, and therefore a burden on the programmers that was added later, Lauren considered this delay fair. Apparently Gerald didn’t agree.
“That’s not what we were told when Len showed us the demo,” he said. Georgia nodded in confirmation.
“It became problematic when we started making the other requested changes,” Lauren said. There had been a lot of requested changes, all of which Len had told the customers would be simple to make. They hadn’t been.
“Is that the Bezier curve function?” Georgia asked, no longer waiting to be acknowledged before speaking up.
“Yes,” Lauren said. She clicked on the button with a parabola on it, relieved that this was something she’d made and could count on. The Bezier curve created smooth arches that could be scaled almost infinitely. Lauren loved the simple elegance of the concept, and it had been a joy to program.
Nothing happened onscreen.
The deep breath Lauren took was subtle, unlike the calming breaths her father used to take, which had done more to signal his anger to others than to calm it. She’d been taking a lot of these deep breaths lately.
She clicked the Bezier curve button again. Nothing.
“What features does this program have?” Gerald asked.
“It transfers and converts files of different types, as requested!” Felix said.
He was going to continue, but Georgia spoke up with a voice that was suddenly loud with tension.
Dread made Lauren’s knees weak.
One of the architects went upstairs for a flash drive with a file on it. Felix continued listing the program features that definitely worked, though the program got slower and less responsive as he went on. Lauren tried not to think the worst, but the idea loomed ever larger as the speed of the program decreased. When the flash drive was delivered, Felix plugged it in and opened the file.
And then the worst happened. The entire program froze, and when Felix tried to close it, it didn’t respond. Neither did Task Manager, or anything else. He tried to pass it off as a problem with the computer, not the program, but Lauren knew better.
“It’s a memory leak,” she hissed at Felix. “Damn program’s taken up the entire computer’s RAM. Turn it off and start it up again. Or don’t.”
Felix shut down the computer, but he didn’t restart it.
Lauren turned to the architects, the unhappiest clients she’d ever seen. Georgia in particular was turning red, and her smile was twisted and forced like a dented fender.
“Clearly,” Felix squeaked, “there are some problems we were not previously aware of. We’ll attend to them and start over next week. Thank you for your patience.”
It was obvious to Lauren that the program wouldn’t be fixed by next week. She suspected the clients knew that too. She left the building at a dignified pace, feeling Georgia’s wrathful stare as she went.
Felix didn’t offer her a ride back to town, and she wouldn’t have taken it if he had. She slumped down at the bus stop and waited for Frank. What had she learned today?
One: Don’t get optimistic about what you can accomplish. Lauren had quickly banged out a couple successful programs for Green Mountain Software in her early days, and Len had overshot the team’s ability to keep up that pace.
Two: Don’t rely on the manager to manage problems, especially when that manager is Felix.
Three: Lowering your standards does not improve your outcome.
Her father had told her this last bit of wisdom the day she applied at Green Mountain. Len’s enthusiasm had charmed her, like it charmed all the people he lied to, and the low stakes of a small-town independent operation beat the constant stress of her corporate job in Philly, where she ground herself down to earn less money than she deserved and didn’t even have time to spend it. Len paid even less, but he had promised much more. He’d told her the workload would be manageable, especially for someone who had moved home to help care for her ailing father. He’d assured her she’d be filling her portfolio with work she could be proud of. He was a car salesman, and Lauren was the sucker who’d bought the lemon.
Her father had warned her. How could she ever make it big in Philly or somewhere better if she thought a place like Green Mountain Software was worth her time? Of course, maybe they’d both been too optimistic about what Lauren could accomplish.
On the ride home, Tracy texted her again.
You are going to the Healing House, right? You already missed the first week, and you promised you’d try. I love you.
Yes, I’m going! Jeezum crow, Lauren replied while she stomped from the bus stop to her apartment. Love you, too.
Her cat, Alan Turing, greeted her at the door. Lauren was too tired to avoid tripping on him if he wound between her legs, so she picked him up to keep him out of the way. He nestled close in her arms.
“You want a nap, buddy?” she asked him. “Let’s take a nap.”
She didn’t bother turning on lights in her cramped apartment as she picked her way through the mess to the couch. The sun went down at five in mid-February, and the windows didn’t let in much light anyway, so she’d gotten used to the dark. The dirty clothes on the floor and dirty dishes in the sink were familiar now, too. She tossed her button-up over the back of the couch, set an alarm on her phone, and went to sleep with Turing on her chest.
* * *
At six fifty-five that evening, she climbed the porch ramp of the yellow Healing House at a run, her breath visibly gusting in the cold. She was only five minutes early, as opposed to her usual ten, because she’d spent too much time picking her way up the slushy highway through the mountains north of Holderness, driving overcautiously on unfamiliar roads that led to unfamiliar destinations she didn’t want to arrive at.
Still, Lauren was here now. This was all Tracy’s idea, but Tracy was usually right. Taking a deep breath and squaring her shoulders, Lauren pulled open the Healing House door and stepped inside.
“Hello! Welcome!” an out-of-breath redhead called to her before rushing after a kid with boxing gloves on, saying, “David, we only wear those in the rec room, you know that.”
Another kid shrieked, and Lauren watched a pair of twins wrestle over a piece of pizza they’d just dropped on the floor while an adult chose not to intervene. The noise, the chaos, was everywhere.
She took her coat off, but she wasn’t sure she planned to stay. Maybe she was in the wrong place. Tracy hadn’t warned her about kids being here.
“I like your shoes,” a little voice said, quiet in the pandemonium.
Lauren looked at her soggy boots, then in the direction of the voice. There was a little girl with honey-blond hair crushed under a pair of over-the-ear headphones sitting on a beanbag chair in the corner. She had a phone in her hand, even though she had to be less than ten. Her shoes lit up as she drummed them hard against the beanbag.
“I like your shoes,” Lauren said.
“Do you have a cat?” the girl asked. Her eyes were laser focused, but not on Lauren’s face.
“Why do you think I have…” Lauren started to ask, then mentally slapped herself. She’d slept in a white shirt, with Turing on her chest, and hadn’t changed it. She buttoned her flannel over the visible patch of black and gray cat hair the kid was staring at. “Yeah, I have a cat.”
“Do you have a picture of your cat?”
The little girl didn’t look disappointed. She just adjusted her headphones and started texting, still kicking the beanbag. A sudden bang in the house made both her and Lauren jump.
“The adult room is in the back,” an Asian woman with a brace on her wrist said as she strode by.
Lauren latched on and followed her. Past the squabbling kids and through a kitchen that reeked of fast food, a door opened on a cistern of coffee and a cluster of adults chatting quietly. The closed door shut out the noise.
“Yikes,” Lauren breathed.
“I know,” the woman said. “I’m Annabel Liu, the adult programs coordinator. We only have two new folks tonight, and the other one’s already here, so you must be Lauren, right?”
“Right. My sister mentioned your name when she ordered me here.”
Lauren winced at her own phrasing, but if the comment offended Annabel, she didn’t show it. She gestured with her coffee cup. “Feel free to introduce yourself around, Lauren, and we’ll get started in a few minutes.”
“Hey, young lady,” a short man in a sweater vest called. He held up his arm, which had the same brace on it as Annabel’s. “One of us is going to have to change!”
Annabel laughed and crossed the room to talk to her friend. Lauren was left alone to observe the scene and try not to feel abandoned. Every window was covered with cheap but heavy curtains, for privacy and to preserve the best efforts of the clanking radiator. The chairs set up in a circle in the middle of the room were a step above metal folding chairs, and the people seated in them seemed comfortable. They knew each other, at least a little bit. This bereavement group had only started last week, but that was enough to make these people not quite strangers to each other. Lauren felt distinctly on the edge of things, like the little girl in the corner who’d talked to her.
Just as the thought crossed her mind, Lauren felt the same intense gaze on her that the kid had given her dirty shirt. Against the opposite wall, obscured by the group of chatting people, another woman was sitting alone. She stared openly. Lauren guessed she was the little girl’s mother, because they had the same honey-blond hair curling down in waves over their shoulders, but where the girl’s look had been placid, this woman’s face was blank with shock.
Lauren felt her cheeks and ears heat up. Sometimes it was comforting to know that someone else was having a worse day than her, but she hadn’t intended to personally ruin an entire Tuesday for Georgia Solomon.