Woman's Lit Karen White Flight Patterns

ISBN 13: 9780451470911

Flight Patterns

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9780451470911: Flight Patterns

The New York Times bestselling author of the Tradd Street novels tells the story of a woman coming home to the family she left behind—and to the woman she always wanted to be....
 
Georgia Chambers has spent her life sifting through other people’s pasts while trying to forget her own. But then her work as an expert on fine china—especially Limoges—requires her to return to the one place she swore she’d never revisit....
 
It has been ten years since Georgia left her family home on the coast of Florida, and nothing much has changed except that there are fewer oysters and more tourists. She finds solace in seeing her grandfather still toiling away in the apiary where she spent much of her childhood, but encountering her estranged mother and sister leaves her rattled.
 
Seeing them after all this time makes Georgia realize that something has been missing—and unless she finds a way to heal these rifts, she will forever be living vicariously through other people’s remnants. To embrace her own life—mistakes and all—she will have to find the courage to confront the ghosts of her past and the secrets she was forced to keep....

READERS GUIDE INCLUDED

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Karen White is the New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty novels, including the Tradd Street series, The Night the Lights Went OutFlight PatternsThe Sound of GlassA Long Time Gone, and The Time Between. She is the coauthor of The Forgotton Room with New York Times bestselling authors Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig. She grew up in London but now lives with her husband and two children near Atlanta, Georgia.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***

Copyright © 2016 Karen White

Prologue

“The keeping of bees is like the direction of sunbeams.”

Henry David Thoreau

—Ned Bloodworth’s Beekeeper’s Journal

September 1943

Provence, France

Dead bees fell from the bruised dusk sky, their papery bodies somersaulting in the air, ricocheting like spent shells off the azure-painted roof of the hive. Giles straightened, breathing in the heavy scents of lavender and honey, of summer grasses and his own sweat. And something else, too. Something chemical and out of place in his fields of purple and gold. Something that made sense out of the bees lying like carrion for the swarming swallows above.

“Ah! Vous dirais-je, maman,” sang his three-year-old daughter with her clear, perfect voice from her perch on an upturned bucket, unaware of the sky or the bees or the tremor of fear that shook the breath from his lungs.

“Colette, calme-toi,” he said, putting his finger to his lips.

The little girl stopped singing and stared up at her father with a question in her dark eyes. He had never asked her to stop before.

Keeping his finger to his lips, Giles closed his eyes, listening. A low hum escaped from inside the hive, quieter now, a volume dial turned low on a radio. A sign to any beekeeper that something was wrong. The queen had died, perhaps. Or any of the dreaded parasites—mites or beetles, even—had invaded the hive, taking over an entire population and killing them.

Or the entire colony had become aware, even before Giles, that the one thing he’d hoped and prayed would never happen was now waiting with open arms on his doorstep. And the bees had chosen a sudden death instead of a long, lingering passing.

He strained to listen, wanting to hear beyond the sound of the bees and the circling birds and his own breathing. There. There it was. The gurgle and thrum of multiple engines. Not cars. Trucks. Large trucks to transport as many people as possible, a slow convoy climbing its way through the small farms and vibrant fields of Provence.

It was inevitable, he supposed. As soon as the Germans had invaded the free zone in southern France the previous November, there was nobody to protect them. Not even a puppet government. His chest expanded and contracted as a cloud of dust and cut hay churned up by the trucks’ tires drifted over the winding dirt road in the far distance like poison descending on the valley.

He thought of the family now huddled in his barn, in the small room he’d created beneath the hidden trapdoor covered with bales of hay. A mother and father and three small children, the woman’s belly swollen with a fourth. He hadn’t even asked their names. These families came and went so frequently that he’d stopped asking. It was easier that way, later. When he’d learn that some hadn’t made it over the mountains to safety it was better that he hadn’t known their names.

Giles cursed under his breath. Three days before, when the cobbler had sent his new assistant, he’d known. He’d seen the way the young man’s eyes had darted about the barn, taking in the tidy table and bench pushed against the wall. The way the cobwebs had been swept out of the corners of the rafters. The neatly stacked tools, carefully placed. All signs of a woman’s touch, yet Giles’s wife had been dead for three years. Yes, Giles had known even then. And the bees had known, too.

Half an hour. That’s all he had before the trucks reached his farm, saw the brightly painted beehives and the stone house where his family had lived for almost two hundred years in the shadow of the château. Before they reached the barn and started moving the hay. His nostrils flared as the exhaust fumes overtook the sweet scents of his beloved fields, and he turned abruptly to Colette.

“C’est le temps.” He picked her up, her warm breath on his neck, and began to run.

She started to cry before they’d even reached the barn, her sobs already hiccups by the time the family had crawled from their hiding place and begun their escape across the lavender fields, their shadows chasing them through the rows of purple.

In the kitchen at the back of the farmhouse he removed the small leather suitcase that had been Colette’s mother’s, packed the same day he’d decided he could no longer be a bystander. Carefully he took the teapot from the hutch, where it had been nestled between its matching cups and plates, the feel of the china fragile beneath his rough hands, as he remembered his dead wife and how she’d loved beautiful things, how she’d loved to set the table and eat from the delicate plates. The china set had been a wedding gift from the château to his grandparents, a thank-you for his family’s years of service.

He wrapped it in a small towel and tucked it carefully amid Colette’s clothing inside the case, then lifted the little girl into his arms again, pressing his forehead to hers. “It will be all right, ma petite chérie. Madame Bosco has promised to look after you until I return.” He lifted the suitcase and began walking swiftly from the house toward the neighboring farm. The Boscos were a large Italian-French family with seven children of their own and had not asked him why he might need to leave his daughter for an unspecified amount of time. It was better they did not know.

“Non, Papa.” Colette’s bottom lip quivered, but he dared not slow or look behind him.

He pressed her blond head against his chest as he walked faster, seeing the lights of the stone farmhouse, white sheets flapping on the clothesline like a warning. The door opened before he reached it. Madame Bosco’s large, round form filled the doorway, the light illuminating her. A young girl, dark haired like her mother but slender as a reed, peered out from behind madame.

“Go back inside,” the woman said to the girl. “Keep your brothers and sisters away from the door.” She waited until her daughter had left, the girl stealing a glance over her shoulder only once. Madame Bosco turned back to Giles. “It is time?” she asked, her voice low.

Giles nodded, holding Colette even tighter, knowing what a terrible thing he was asking the child to do. And how this very scene must be playing out again and again all over the burning fields of Europe. A chorus of children’s cries and parents’ despair that fell on parched earth and thick air that smelled of burning things. The wailing might be heard, but no one was listening.

He touched his lips to Colette’s sweat-soaked forehead and tearstained cheek, breathing in the scent of her one last time. “You are my heart, ma chérie,” he said, holding her small fist tightly in his own larger one, replaying something they did every night. “And only you can set it free.” He opened his hand and wiggled his fingers like petals on a sunflower. Even in her misery, the little girl remembered her part and opened her own hand, the small fingers slow and heavy.

“Remember this,” Giles whispered in her ear, the folds and curves as delicate as a flower. “Remember you are my heart.”

Before he could change his mind, he handed Colette to the welcoming arms of Madame Bosco. There were tears in her eyes as she held the sobbing child. “We will keep her safe until you return. We have already instructed the children.”

Giles nodded, remembering her mother, as he stroked Colette’s blond curls. He slid a postcard from his pocket and handed it to madame, his thumb obscuring the foreign stamps. The edges were torn and frayed from having been held and read so many times, the image of the beach with impossibly white sand engraved on his memory. “If something happens, let my friend know. His name and address are on here. If I can’t find you, I will go to him.” He paused for a moment. “Keep it hidden. It will be safer for you that way. No questions.”

Madame Bosco nodded and he felt the trembling in her hand as she took the postcard. “I will pray that I will put this back in your hands along with Colette when this is all over.”

He gave her a solemn stare. “I hope God listens to your prayers. He hasn’t listened to mine in a very long time.” Lifting the suitcase, he set it inside the kitchen door. “Be careful with this. I have wrapped something precious inside, something of her home and family. Please keep them both safe.”

One last time Giles pressed his lips against Colette’s soft curls. “Au revoir, ma chérie. I will come back for you; I promise. However long it takes.”

The little girl looked up at him with her mother’s eyes, large and dark. She reached for him. “Ne va pas, Papa! Don’t leave me!” She struggled to release herself from the woman’s grasp, her legs kicking frantically.

“Be safe,” madame said, her own eyes damp. “Until we meet again.”

He touched her arm and pressed it, grief like cement filling his throat. With one last glance back, he turned in the opposite direction from his farm and began to run. He heard his daughter sobbing as the sky cast out the light, and imagined he could hear the sound of dead bees hitting the parched earth, lamenting the passing of all that was good.


Chapter 1

“The bee collects honey from flowers in such a way as to do the least damage or destruction to them, and he leaves them whole, undamaged and fresh, just as he found them.”

St. Francis de Sales

—Ned Bloodworth’s Beekeeper’s Journal

Georgia

April 2015

New Orleans

Memories are a thief. They slip up behind you when you least expect it, their cold hands pressed against your face, suffocating. They blow icy-cold air even on the hottest days, and pinch you awake in the middle of the night. My grandfather had once told me that memories were like a faucet you could turn on or off at will, and that after I got to be as old as he was, I’d have figured out how it works. Maybe I just wasn’t old enough, because my memories always had a way of getting stuck in the on position, flooding my mind with images and snatches of conversations I’d rather not relive.

Perhaps that explained my obsession with old things, with antique clocks, armoires, and shoes. My fascination with ancient books filled with brittle paper, mismatched china pieces, and old-fashioned keys and their corresponding locks. It was as if these relics had been left for me to claim as my own, to make up a past that was devoid of my own memories.

Old china was my favorite. It allowed me to live vicariously through somebody else’s imagined life, to participate in family meals and celebrations, to pretend to be a part of a bride’s place-setting selection. Experiences from somebody else’s life, but definitely not my own. Despite, or probably because of, my family’s well-grounded belief that I was born to founder, I’d discovered a vocation I not only loved but was actually good at. I was an expert in most things antique, a sought-after consultant, and proof that it’s possible to become someone different from the person you’d once been. The person everybody expected you to still be. If only I could have figured out how to turn off the memories, I might have been able to sink comfortably into the new life I’d created from old china and discarded furniture.

I dipped a cotton swab into the cleaning solution and dabbed at the intricate scrollwork of the padlock on my desk. The silver shield-shaped lock with grained bar-and-diamond-embellished trim had been found in a box of old horse tackle in a barn in New Hampshire at an estate sale. Mr. Mandeville, my boss, and owner of the Big Easy Auction Gallery, had grudgingly let me go. I had a good eye and an even better instinct about these things, and after eight years of my working for Mr. Mandeville, he’d finally started to agree. I would study the history of a property and its owner when an estate sale was announced so that I could look at pictures of boxes stacked in an old barn or pushed against the walls of a humid attic and know what treasures I’d find.

I wouldn’t say that I was particularly happy, or as successful as I’d like to be, but there was nobody in my life to ask me whether I was. Nobody to hold up a mirror to make me see whom I had become, or to see the person I’d been who had never really believed she could be anything more than ordinary. My mother had once told me that she didn’t know that particular sorrow, the sorrow of being ordinary. But I did. And I relished it, if only because it made me not her.

I opened the large bottom drawer of my desk, listening to the clink and slide of dozens of mismatched keys and padlocks I’d collected over the years, my hope of finding a matching key and lock one of the stupid little games I played with myself. I’d just grabbed a fistful of keys when I heard the front door of the building open, the bell clanging ominously in the empty space. It was Sunday, the offices and gallery below were closed, and nobody was supposed to be there. Which was precisely why I was there, unconcerned about the vintage jeans with frayed bell-bottoms that sat a little too low on my hips, flip-flops, a 1960s tie-dyed T-shirt, and hair pulled back in a ponytail that made me look about ten years old.

“Georgia?” Mr. Mandeville called up the stairs. The gallery was an old cotton warehouse on Tchoupitoulas, and every word bounced and ricocheted off the brick walls and wood floors unencumbered by rugs or wall coverings of any sort.

I stood to let him know where I was, then froze as I heard another male voice and two sets of footsteps climbing the stairs.

“Georgia?” he called again.

Knowing he’d probably seen my car in the small parking lot behind the building, I sat down behind my desk, hoping to at least hide my flip-flops.

“I’m in my office,” I shouted unnecessarily, their footsteps coming to a stop outside my door. “Come in.”

Mr. Mandeville opened the door and stepped through, then ushered his companion inside. The tall ceilings and windows dwarfed most people, including my boss, but not the visitor. He was very tall, maybe six feet, four inches, with thick and wavy strawberry-blond hair. As a person who studied objects of beauty for a living, I decided that’s what he was and didn’t bother to hide my scrutiny.

He was lean but broad shouldered, the bones in his face strong and well placed, his eyes the color of cobalt Wedgwood Jasperware. As they approached, I stood, forgetting what I must look like, and allowed my gaze to rove over the full length of him like I would a Victorian armoire or Hepplewhite chair. I’d started to grin to myself as I realized I must be one of a very small number of women who’d compare a handsome man to a piece of furniture.

He must have caught my grin, because the man stopped about five feet from me, a pensive look on his face. It took me a moment to realize that he was studying me with the same examination I’d just given him.

I sat down quickly, chagrined to know that I wasn’t as immune as I believed myself to be.

Mr. Mandeville frowned slightly at me seated behind my desk. I knew he had issues with my insistence on solitude and working long hours. He was a family man who thrived on noise and bustle and the adoration of his employees and extended family. But he’d never had concern over my manners. Until now, apparently.

“Georgia Cha...

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