by Laina Villeneuve
Adrienne Stecher has always known she’s different, and she’s fine with her place on the spectrum. She loves her job and her apartment, and she’s happy to help out her grandfather a few times a month. If she could just get the peacocks that plague his neighborhood to stop destroying his yard, she’d be set.
Native to Mississippi, Casey Knight knows beautiful when she sees it, and California is full of beauty. She appreciates everything about her college town—the weather, her job, and the majestic birds that populate her neighborhood.
Though every encounter Casey has with Adrienne seems designed to scare her away along with the birds, Casey keeps finding herself drawn back to her neighbor’s granddaughter. Adrienne is adamant that her quirks make it impossible to date, but something about her makes Casey just as certain that they could be birds of a feather.
FROM THE AUTHOR
"There are days where a dozen peafowl litter our front yard, so it's not a huge leap to see where the conflict of this story originated. That said, I've lived in "peacock central" for a dozen years and, until now, never included a single bird in a story. The pandemic is what offered the spark that took me to the computer to begin a story tied to the pesky birds. With so little to do, more visitors came to our neighborhood to watch the birds. We would be having dinner and see people pull up in front of our house, pop the hatchback and sit there for an hour. They also fed the birds which created A LOT of conflict for me.
Conversations in the neighborhood are often centered on the birds, and like my stress level, complaints about the visitors to our neighborhood rose. I told more than one neighbor that I was going to write a romance with one character who loved the birds and another who loathed the birds. I was going to put a gorgeous bird on the cover and put up a table to sell the book to the gawkers, telling them that I'd penned a history of the neighborhood birds. All my neighbors enthusiastically supported my pan. Bella, however, wisely went with a cover that matches the romance-themed story, so it looks like I won't be making a buck selling it to the folks who come to witness the peacocks in action."
Natalie A. - I could not put this book down! As a person who is neurodivergent, this book was spot on! Thank you for creating a piece of art that speaks for a lot of us. I also work in a library so I loved that addition! Great character development and story!
Jessica R. - This book was everything. It was cute, it was funny, and it made you want to cry, in all the best ways. I loved the relationship between Adrienne and Casey. I loved the relationship between Adrienne and her pops. The relationship between Casey and Adrienne's pops. I loved the found family, the supportive friends, and the dogs. I loved everything.
Patricia B. - This story was equal parts funny and sweet in all the right places. There are some drama filled moments, especially, because of the ADHD and autism that Adrienne deals with every day. Casey to me was really well written, because you could tell that she really paid attention to Adrienne from the beginning and picked up on her unique character traits by paying attention to all the emotional, and unemotional moments that brought them together. The supporting characters were great as well and made this an even more enjoyable read. I would definitely recommend this book to my friends and family, and I look forward to what's next from this author.
D. Booker - This is the first time I’ve read a romance with a neurodivergent MC and I really liked how the entire romance unfolded. I think the “first person” narrative switch for Adrienne was a really smart decision. It gave readers the ability to proxy-experience the torrent of feelings that someone who is neurodivergent faces on a daily basis and it really gave insight into Adrienne’s thoughts and emotions. I also loved Casey’s character’s generosity of spirit and patience. Casey and Adrienne’s back and forth with all of her “unfiltered” moments were both funny and incredibly sweet.
The peacocks feature prominently in this narrative which brings out loads of funnies, but separately, I think they serve as an excellent metaphor for how quickly we can be affronted when someone does not align to a certain POV rather than take the time to understand them deeper.
This was a really cute and quirky low angst romance that kept me highly entertained.
Claire E. - I really enjoyed the story of all the main characters and how they interact together, the connection between Adrienne and Casey builds slowly before really catching fire in a realistic way, with communication that can be rare. An engaging story, well told by an author who is also neurodivergent and therefore understands what she is writing about.
Bonnie S. - Ms. Laina Villeneuve has written some books that I really enjoyed but this book is by far the best book. Characters dealing with autism and relationships, while remaining a fun read is something I could never hope to do. A Very, very wonderful read.
Kel M. - A wonderful tale of opposites attracting. Throw in a lovely grandfather and neuro divergence and we have a winner. I so enjoyed the time taken to develop each character as well as the romance.
I swore the peacocks goading me from my grandfather’s lawn would be the death of me. While I assembled the new motion-activated sprinkler, at least twenty of the filthy fowl gathered on the lawn and strutted about, purposely taunting me.
Just wait until I get this thing set up, I thought, sinking the stake at the bottom of the unit into the bed of begonia that they had eaten down to almost nothing. I attached the hose, resisting the temptation to spray them outright. I wanted to see if they would activate the sensor on the sprinkler, so I clenched my teeth and did my best to ignore them as I maneuvered the little tabs to set the radius of the spray.
Satisfied the sprinkler would sweep the entire yard, I cranked open the spigot and waited. Nothing. The birds peck, peck, pecked in the grass, cocking their heads to fix me with their beady little eyes. I would have to adjust the sensitivity. Where was that knob again? I had to check the packaging I’d left on the counter inside. I climbed the shallow stairs to the small porch and swung open the heavy oak door to the kitchen area.
“Almost ready for dinner?” my grandpop, Marv, asked when I stepped inside.
“Almost. It’s not sensing the birds yet, but when it does, I’m going to nail ’em.” I pointed my finger like a gun and mimicked him telling stories from when he’d been a river boat gunner in Vietnam. “Pew, pew, pew.”
Pops shook his head. “Do they know you’re declaring war?”
“Someone has to protect the begonia! There’s hardly any left!”
“I can plant more,” he said.
I didn’t respond. We’d had the conversation often enough for me to have both our parts memorized. Back when I’d lived with him as a kid, a peacock would wander into the neighborhood maybe twice a year. Then some moron two houses down bought a female because the bird “looked lonely.” The birds were a constant topic of conversation, so I gathered that the population had been steadily increasing, but until I started coming out once a week to help him with shopping and chores, I hadn’t known how bad it was.
I was now doing something about it whether or not he agreed it was necessary.
“I’m picking some kale from the garden. Then dinner is on the table.”
I skimmed the instructions as he slipped out through the sliding glass door to the back patio. I heard a yelp and looked out back. I couldn’t see my pops, so I opened the front door and jumped in surprise.
A woman was standing on the steps batting at her tight orange leggings.
“Argggghhh, Marv!” she said before looking up.
I was dumbstruck by her hair. As she flicked it to the side and out of her eyes, the colored layers shimmered. The top was layered somehow, the bright orange and red at the crown shifting to purple and blue. She snapped her head in the direction of the sprinkler, revealing that underneath the colorful mop, her hair was shaved short and dyed yellow and green. It was as if one of the peacocks had taken human form. She wasn’t like anyone I’d ever seen before.
She gestured toward the offending object, pinned me with her dark blue eyes and then pointed toward her pants.
The sprinkler had soaked her crotch. Before I could stop myself, I started laughing. Not socially acceptable, I reminded myself searching for the right words to offer this stranger. “Oops.”
“Are you shittin’ me?”
I hadn’t meant to hit a human target. Wasn’t that obvious? Wait. I had not considered the mail carrier. I would absolutely have to modify the radius to avoid hitting anyone walking up to the front door. But what if the birds figured out they could avoid the spray by taking the same route? That would do nothing to solve the problem of the birds not only eating my grandpop’s flowers but also pooping all over the walkway. The woman cleared her throat, making me aware that I’d gotten lost in my thoughts. “I am trying to scare the birds away.”
“Well, I’m no bird.”
I couldn’t stop myself from staring at her hair. “You kind of look like a peacock.”
She extended a wet magazine. “Would you give this to Marv?”
She smiled at me oddly with a lot of teeth. “Bless your heart. If it’s not too much of a bother, tell him it’s not my fault it got wet.”
Her tone suggested that she was upset with me. “I’m sorry you got wet.”
Even though I apologized, she still had that funny smile when she turned to go, running to avoid the hose when her movement activated another spray. She was agile and fast, so the hose barely got her, but she yipped anyway as she ran to the sidewalk and out of sight.
I walked over to the spigot and cranked off the water. I’d have to mess with it after dinner.
“Your Military Times is wet,” I said, joining Pops at the table.
“I see that. Is the rest of my mail wet, too?”
“I didn’t get the mail carrier. And I’ll adjust the spray, so it doesn’t hit them. But I might have to set it to sweep the lawn area. I’ll have to come up with another way to keep them away from your flowers.”
“Does that mean you sprayed Casey?”
“I didn’t spray anyone. The hose sprayed a woman with peacock hair and a funny accent.”
He nodded. “That’d be Casey. You gave her a towel, didn’t you?”
A towel! Was that what she was waiting for me to do?
“Adrienne Iris.” His tone and expression were stern. “You let her stand there dripping wet?”
“She gave me the magazine and ran away.”
“I told you it was foolish to try to set up something to squirt those birds. You can take it back and save your money.”
“I’ll think of something else. There are too many to ignore them.”
“They aren’t doing any harm. I don’t understand why you get so worked up about them. You’re making yourself miserable, and you’re going to get me into trouble with the neighbors. There are plenty of folks who love those birds.”
“Like Casey? Is she your neighbor? It looked like she walked here.”
“I’ve told you about her before, the nice gal from Mississippi.”
“You didn’t say she looked like a peacock.”
“Her hair looks like she’s one of the males ready for mating season.”
“Maybe she was hoping to meet you. I told her you’ve been coming over some weekends.” He took a bite of his burger. I liked burgers because there was no silverware to clink on his plate, but I hated it when he had fresh kale that crunched noisily.
“Why would she want to meet me?” I bit into my burger, hoping to tune him out with my own chewing.
“I told her I had a granddaughter her age. It’s hard to meet people when you move across the country. I thought she could use a friend.”
“Doesn’t she go to the bible university?”
“Are you judging a book by its cover? That seems out of character for a librarian.”
I frowned and popped a tater tot in my mouth, crispy and with a lot of salt, exactly the way I liked them. I didn’t like the way my grandpop smacked his lips while he ate, so I looked out the sliding glass doors and identified five things I could see: the pool, the peach trees, the picnic table, the towel bin, the rocks that separated the patio from the lawn. “I don’t see what we’d have in common. She moved here to go to a bible college. I went to a hippie school. She didn’t seem enthusiastic about my method of scaring off the peacocks. Do you think she’s one of the ones who likes them?”
“Most of the neighborhood does,” he said around his food, like he always told me not to.
“Well, they shouldn’t. They’re not native to the area.” I remembered, then, that my pops had said Casey occasionally came by with his mail that had been delivered to her house by mistake. “Does Casey like it here in California?”
“I said before, she seems lonely. Why else would a young person stay and gab with an old man?” He took a big bite and used his fingers to push lettuce past his lips. His face was covered in gray stubble, the way it always was late in the day, and he still wore his gray hair military short.
The urge I had to get up and leave the table was so strong, I went back to my coping strategy, distracting myself by trying to find four things I could touch: the ridge on my ear, the soft cotton of my napkin… “I don’t think she wanted to talk to me,” I said, trying to find two more things I could touch.
“My bet is that had more to do with the soaking.” He took another big bite.
I did my best to distract myself from his chewing. I could touch the little scallops at the base of my fork. I could touch the little crescent moon indentation my dad had made on the dining room table when he was a kid. “I told her that I hadn’t been aiming for people.”
“Well, I bet that made all the difference.”
Something in his voice reminded me of how Casey had said “bless your heart.” Their words sounded nice, and they didn’t sound mad, but I still felt like I was in trouble. Even if the hose hadn’t wet her, she would probably have been mad about me trying to scare the peacocks away. I didn’t see how I could have anything in common with someone as stylish as Casey. I’d never understood the amount of energy some people put into things like clothes and hair.
She looked like the girls I’d gone to school with here in Southern California, the ones who told me I shouldn’t wear the same sweatshirt every day. The ones who made my belly flip and my mouth go dry. I didn’t care what they thought about my clothes, but it stung to know from the way they talked to me that I didn’t fit in with their crowd.
Casey wasn’t exactly like them, though. None of those girls had peacock hair. “Why do you think Casey looks like a peacock?” I asked Pops.
“She didn’t the last time I talked to her. Why don’t you walk down the street and ask her? And apologize.”
“I already apologized.”
He raised his eyebrows as if he didn’t believe me even though I was much more precise with my wording than either him or Casey. It didn’t matter how hard I tried to read people’s expressions and social cues, most of the time, they confused me. I’ve always been my own best company.