Mrs. Nash's Ashes

Mrs. Nash's Ashes

by Sarah Adler
Mrs. Nash's Ashes

Mrs. Nash's Ashes

by Sarah Adler



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Notes From Your Bookseller

We found Mrs. Nash's Ashes to be quirky, funny, spicy and big-hearted. You’ll laugh and even with the HEA you’ll cry. It’s a charmer of a book and is perfect to kick off a summer road trip.

A New York Public Library Best Book of 2023

A Most Anticipated Summer Read by Today Barnes & NobleBookRiot ∙ GoodReadsCulturess ∙ and more!

A starry-eyed romantic, a cynical writer, and (the ashes of) an elderly woman take the road trip of a lifetime that just might upend everything they believe about true love.

Millicent Watts-Cohen is on a mission. When she promised her elderly best friend that she’d reunite her with the woman she fell in love with nearly eighty years ago, she never imagined that would mean traveling from D.C. to Key West with three tablespoons of Mrs. Nash’s remains in her backpack. But Millie’s determined to give her friend a symbolic happily-ever-after, before it’s (really) too late—and hopefully reassure herself of love’s lasting power in the process.

She just didn’t expect to have a living travel companion.

After a computer glitch grounds flights, Millie is forced to catch a ride with Hollis Hollenbeck, an also-stranded acquaintance from her ex’s MFA program. Hollis certainly does not believe in happily-ever-afters—symbolic or otherwise—and makes it quite clear that he can’t fathom Millie’s plan ending well for anyone.

But as they contend with peculiar bed-and-breakfasts, unusual small-town festivals, and deer with a death wish, Millie begins to suspect that her reluctant travel partner might enjoy her company more than he lets on. Because for someone who supposedly doesn’t share her views on romance, Hollis sure is becoming invested in the success of their journey. And the closer they get to their destination, the more Millie has to admit that maybe this trip isn’t just about Mrs. Nash’s love story after all—maybe it’s also about her own.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593547809
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/23/2023
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: eBook
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 5,661
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Sarah Adler writes romantic comedies about lovable weirdos finding their happily ever afters. She lives in Maryland with her husband and daughter and spends an inordinate amount of her time yelling at her mischievous cat to stop opening the kitchen cabinets. Mrs. Nash’s Ashes is her debut novel. You can find her on Twitter (@sarahaadler) and Instagram (@sarahadlerwrites).

Read an Excerpt


Rose McIntyre Nash died peacefully in her sleep at age ninety-eight, and now I carry part of her with me wherever I go. I do not mean that figuratively. She's inside a small wooden box tucked away in my backpack as we speak. Not all of her, of course. Geoffrey Nash wasn't about to hand over his entire grandmother to the weird girl who lived in her spare bedroom. But Geoffrey was kind enough to give me three tablespoons of her ashes (again, not figurative; he portioned her out with a measuring spoon from the kitchen). Probably not the request he was expecting when he asked if I'd like something to remember her by, but he didn't seem to mind too much. I think he was mostly relieved I didn't want her highly collectible radioactive Fiestaware.

Geez, this is making me sound like a total wackadoo. I'm not, though, I promise. I know that's exactly what a wackadoo would say, but I'm really just a relatively normal person who happens to be traveling to Key West with a small amount of human remains.

I'm going about this all wrong; let me start at the beginning.

Mrs. Nash had been living in Apartment 1B for almost seventy years when my boyfriend and I moved into Apartment 1A. Thanks to rent control, she was paying like five dollars a month for her two-bedroom between Dupont and Logan Circles. And we became fast friends, because I am a damn delight and so was she. So when Geoffrey and the rest of the extended family began fretting over her living alone around the same time things with Josh imploded, I moved in with Mrs. Nash. It was the perfect situation: Geoffrey let me live there for practically nothing in exchange for cleaning, cooking, running errands, accompanying Mrs. Nash to her medical appointments, and generally attending to his grandmother's needs. But mostly what Mrs. Nash needed was friendship, which I was more than happy to provide since that's mostly what I needed too.

Well, one day about three months ago, we were in the living room, me sprawled on the Persian rug with some book on the War of 1812 I was reading for work and Mrs. Nash sitting with her eyes closed in her favorite threadbare chair, the sunlight covering her plump little body like a blanket. She appeared to be napping, but suddenly her cornflower-blue eyes fluttered open and she sat up straighter.

Millie, she said with a sense of urgency in her voice that sent a jolt of panic up my spine. I was relieved-albeit momentarily confused-when she continued, I would like to tell you about the love of my life. We met during the war. Her name was Elsie.

Anyway, that's the ultra-abbreviated version of how I wound up here, sitting cross-legged on the floor at National Airport, waiting to board a plane to Miami with a bit of Mrs. Nash in my backpack. There's a lot more to the story, of course, but right now I'm a bit too distracted to tell it properly-a man across the gate's waiting area keeps glancing my way when he thinks I'm not looking. Like he thinks he might know me from somewhere and is trying to figure it out. That's nothing new; people still recognize me sometimes, even though I haven't been on TV since I was fourteen. It's not a big deal when they do since I'm about as extroverted as they come.

Usually the way this situation plays out is they approach me, saying something like, "Hey, aren't you that girl from that show?" Then I respond, "If you mean the actually kinda problematic kids' show from the early aughts about the time-traveling redhead and her poorly rendered CGI lizard companion, then yes. That's me. Millicent Watts-Cohen, also known as Penelope Stuart on Penelope to the Past." Then they say, a little sheepishly, "Right. Yeah, that show was awesome, and you were great in it." Except I know they are lying because the show was terrible. The history it taught was inaccurate at best and flat-out offensive at worst, the special effects sucked, and I was never talented at acting so much as at having a cute face and a good memory. Sometimes they'll mention a Penelope episode they claim was their favorite, but it's usually a conflation of two or more, or even a different show altogether. I never bother correcting them, just smile and nod. And I'll usually agree to a selfie when they say, "Oh my god, my friend/sibling/partner/parakeet will never believe this!" because it keeps them from taking an unflattering stealthy pic of me eating a corn dog a few minutes later, and also staves off the biannual tabloid rumors that I've died from huffing glue.

It's possible this guy is a fan; he looks about my age, give or take, and thirtyish is the right demographic. Except something about the way he's looking at me feels familiar. Like maybe he recognizes me from real life.

I think I might recognize him too. But I can't seem to place him. Did we go to school together? Not grad-my master's program was small and absurdly insular-but maybe undergrad. I'm running through a mental catalog of various classrooms I've been in over the years, hoping he'll snap into the memory of one of them, when a man's voice interrupts my mental riffling.

"Hey, are you . . . ?"

I turn to find an almost perversely muscular dude in a tank top, which feels like a real choice on a cloudy day that didn't even break sixty-five degrees in the DC area. His shaggy, sun-bleached hair sticks out from the edges of a flat-brimmed Nationals cap with its iridescent sticker still in place. His biceps are the size and color of whole honey-baked hams. He's wearing sunglasses-indoors. This person is what I imagine would result if a beach bum and a lax bro had a thirtysomething baby.

My meeting-a-fan smile automatically plasters itself to my face as I stand. "Penelope Stuart on Penelope to the Past," I say. "That's me. Millicent Watts-Cohen."

"Whoa, yeah, I thought it was you. That's so rad. I can't wait to tell my boy, Todd. He won't believe it." He pulls out his phone and holds it up. "Can I get a selfie?"

"Yeah, sure," I say.

We lean in toward each other, and he angles the phone downward to get us both in the frame. His proximity assaults my nose with the scent of beer and an excessive amount of musky body spray. Even after he snaps a few shots and tucks his phone back into his shorts pocket, his grin remains. "Todd and I watched every episode of Penelope to the Past like a million times back in the day."

"That's great. Always nice to hear that people enjoyed the show," I say.

"Ha, no, the show itself was kind of garbage-no offense."

My smile droops in response to this surprising development. Not that I'm offended (I mean, I wholeheartedly agree with him), but these lines aren't part of the usual script for this interaction.

"You were like the hottest girl our age we'd ever seen. Especially that episode when your family was on vacation in Mexico. You know, the one where you went back to Aztec times? You were in this little yellow bikini, and your, you know . . ." Don't do it, I think. Don't do it. But he raises his hands to his chest and palms invisible breasts, then mimes them bouncing while he slo-mo runs in place. ". . . When you had to escape from the human sacrifice." He laughs and nudges me with an elbow. "Ha, yeah. You know what I mean. You know."

Oh god.

It's not that I was unaware until this moment that my awkward fourteen-year-old body starred in a lot of my fellow teenagers' early sexual fantasies. It's that most people keep this shit on the internet, where they can say gross things anonymously and without inflicting it directly upon my person. That's one of the main reasons I don't do social media. I learned a long time ago that I can't stop the world from objectifying me, but I can choose to shield my brain from absorbing the worst of it. Luckily (and perhaps surprisingly) this is the first time in years someone has been so candid when meeting me. But as much as I want to call this dickhead out for what he's said, my mouth is paralyzed in this sort of horrified gape, which he's unfortunately taking as encouragement to continue voicing his disgusting train of thought.

"Wow. I had so many dreams about you in that yellow bikini back then, you can't even imagine." He lets out another laugh. My whole face grows hot with this terrible combination of embarrassment and fury. "You look good, still, by the way." He lifts his sunglasses, and his eyes travel over the front of my body like a dog show judge might check out the standard poodle before taking a closer look at its teeth. "Really good."

A warm hand cups my shoulder, and I flinch before I realize the touch is coming from somewhere behind me. From someone who has yet to comment on either the past or present state of my tits and is therefore very welcome to enter this conversation.

"There you are," a voice says as the hand leaves my shoulder and slides down my arm, spreading a strangely reassuring heat over my skin. "I know you said you put the hotel info in my bag, but I can't find it and I need the phone number. Can you come look?"

I glance over at my rescuer as he hands me my little leather backpack and grabs the handle of my rolling suitcase. He's the guy from before, the one I remembered but couldn't place. Except now that he's closer, I can see his features clearly: dark chocolate-colored hair, mussed in a fashionable way where you can't tell if it's deliberate or if he really did just roll out of bed; light olive skin; full lips surrounded by the kind of stubble that manages to be ever-present yet has zero aspirations of becoming an actual beard. And I'd never forget those eyes in a million years-one gray-blue, one cognac brown, staring from behind round, tortoiseshell glasses. I've definitely had those mismatched eyes focused on me before.

"Yeah, sure." I hug my backpack-and Mrs. Nash-to my chest and mutter a quick, "Nice to meet you," to the fan, even though it wasn't nice to meet him at all.

"Sorry to interrupt, man," my new companion calls out as he guides me away. Then he adds in a hurry as if he just can't help himself, "But also, hey, learn some fucking appropriate boundaries maybe."

The memory comes together like a time-lapse video of a jigsaw puzzle. The crisp, late-September air on my face, chilling my tears as they tumbled down my cheeks. The whooshing sound of city traffic that replaced the restaurant's hubbub as I stepped outside into the night. A man's voice-this man's voice-reaching out of the dark, asking, Hey, you okay?

Hollis Hollenbeck. From my ex's MFA cohort. One of those fancy literary friends Josh talked about and constantly compared himself to but rarely let me interact with beyond hasty introductions and quick hellos at parties. Hollis was there that horrible night eight months ago, leaning against the brick wall beside the restaurant's entrance, the light from the old-timey lantern suspended above him highlighting the different colors of his eyes.

Now, Hollis leads me to the row of chairs in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows as a plane zooms down the runway in the distance. His blue duffel bag waits in front of the seat he vacated to save me. I consider joking about how he must have missed the last twenty years of PSAs about not leaving your bags unattended in an airport, but instead I say, "Thank you. That was getting . . . gross." I am grateful, of course, for his intervention. But I also can't ignore the tiny twinge of shame deep in my stomach, as if part of me feels like what that guy said is somehow my fault, that I should have shut it down or prevented it or been able to walk away without Hollis's assistance.

"Getting? Dude rocketed past gross and was well on his way to abhorrent." The look on his face is almost comical, the way his mouth droops into a perfectly symmetrical arch. Like a postcard of St. Louis.

"Hey. I know you, don't I?" I say.

His thick eyebrows raise in question. "Do you?"

"You know Josh Yaeger, right?" Somehow my smile stays perky and unaffected by the name coming out of my mouth.

"Yeah. And you . . . also know Josh."

He doesn't say it like "Wow this is so awkward because you dated my friend for three years and probably would be engaged to him right now if he hadn't betrayed your trust." It's more of an "I can only guess that's why you know me, but I really have no clue who you are." So maybe he wasn't looking at me because he remembered me after all.

"Um. He and I were together for a while," I say.


"Back in September . . . at Josh's book release party at that restaurant in Georgetown. You drove me home," I explain, hoping to jog his memory. "So I probably owe you a thanks for that too."

"Oh. Did we . . . ?" He waves a finger back and forth between us.

"What? No. You didn't even come upstairs, just waited to make sure I got inside okay then left."

"Then you must be mistaken. That doesn't sound like me."

I don't understand the game he's playing here, why he's fighting against my good impression of him. "Well, from the little I know, helping a woman out of an unpleasant situation sounds very much like you."

"No way." He shakes his head. "I never do anything out of the goodness of my heart."

"Then what was that a minute ago?"

"Purely selfish. If I had to listen to another word about that guy's wet dreams, a tidal wave of vomit would've escaped my mouth and swallowed up this terminal."

The mental image of that makes me chuckle, but his expression remains serious. "Whatever," I say. "Regardless, I'd like to thank you somehow, both for today and for that night."

I immediately regret the open-endedness of my offer as his eyebrows raise again, but he eventually shakes his head. "Not necessary. Like I said, I was just being selfish. Now, not to be rude, but I went over there to stop a conversation, not get roped into a new one. So if you'll excuse me . . ."

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