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National bestselling author Robin Wells weaves a moving epic that stretches from modern-day Louisiana to World War II-era New Orleans and back again in this multigenerational tale of love, loss and redemption.
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Before she became a USA Today bestselling author, Robin Wells was an advertising and public relations executive, but she always dreamed of writing novels—a dream inspired by a grandmother who told “hot tales” and parents who were both librarians. Her books have won the RWA Golden Heart, two National Readers' Choice Awards, the Holt Medallion and numerous other awards. She now lives in Texas with her husband, but will always be a Louisiana girl at heart.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
raves for the novels of robin wells
Funny, how you keep telling yourself, someday. Someday I’ll get organized. Someday I’ll get everything sorted out. Someday I’ll tackle the tasks I’ve been dreading all these years.
I kept waiting until I had a big block of time. A few free days, I thought. And, of course, they never came. No day is ever really free. And the truth is, if I’m entirely honest—and I haven’t been on this topic, I admit it now—I didn’t want to sort through my belongings. Sorting through meant looking back, and looking back meant confronting things I’d spent most of my life trying to avoid.
So I put it off and put it off, and then, just when I worked up my resolve and finally got started, this happened.
I’m foggy on what exactly it was this is—I can’t remember how I ended up here—but here I am all the same, hovering over my own body in a hospital room. I’m pretty sure it’s the hospital in my hometown of Wedding Tree, Louisiana, because I’ve visited lots of friends over the years and I recognize that awful gray linoleum flooring. When you’re visiting someone who’s really bad off, you spend a lot of time gazing down so you don’t have to look at their pain.
Anyway, here I am, floating against the ugly acoustical tile ceiling, looking down at an old woman with tubes snaking out of her nose and her arm veins. Apparently I’m not dead yet, because the old woman’s chest is falling and rising, and a machine wired up to her is steadily beeping—so hard to believe that ghastly-looking old gal is me! But if I’m up here watching the goings-on, I must be on the way out.
Which means it’s too late to make good on my intentions to sort everything out and do what I should have done sixty-something years ago.
“Never put off till tomorrow what you should do today.”
I turn my head at the familiar voice. “Mother?”
She’s floating beside me. At least, her head is—and her shoulders, too. The rest of her seems to trail off into vapor, but maybe my soul has poor eyesight. Mother’s hair is pinned up prim and proper, with neat waves on the sides, just the way she always kept it, and she’s wearing the dress with the starched lace collar that she was buried in forty-something years ago.
“Did I—did I just die?” I ask.
“Not yet, although if I were you, I’d die of shame, looking like that in a public place.” She looks down at the woman on the bed and clucks her tongue. Mother always had the highest standards for appearance and comportment, and clearly the woman on the bed was violating all of them. Her—no, my—hair is an unruly tangle of gray, far too long to be age appropriate. My skin is a blotchy testament to the fact I hadn’t stayed out of the sun as Mother had warned, and my mouth gapes open in a most undignified fashion.
Still, a hospital room isn’t exactly a public place, and—
“Don’t you sass me, young lady.”
I was hardly young—on what planet was ninety-one young? Besides, I didn’t think I’d spoken aloud.
“Thoughts, words—they’re all the same,” Mother says. “It’s all energy. There are no barriers on this side.”
“Oh my, indeed.”
“You fell and hit your head. You’re unconscious, and you’re having an out-of-body experience.”
“So I can’t possibly help how I look.”
“A lady always manages to look her best for visitors.”
Oh—I had visitors! My view widens, like a zoom lens being reversed, to see three people gathered around my bed. I can only view the tops of their heads, but I’m sure the stocky man with the bald patch standing at the foot of the bed is my son, Eddie, and I think the tall, auburn-haired man beside him is his partner, Ralph.
I’ve always known Eddie is the way he is—they call it gay now, although in my day, that meant happy, and Eddie was always a sad, tentative, nervous boy. The word for Eddie’s kind, a word I only heard whispered when I was young, was queer. I never thought badly of him for it. The way I figured it, Eddie liked men, just like I did, and he can’t help it any more than I could. If someone told me to start liking women that way, I don’t reckon I could, so it stands to reason that Eddie couldn’t, either.
I tried to explain that to Eddie’s father, but he wasn’t having any of it. Charlie thought it was a character flaw and a choice. He took it personally, as if it were something Eddie was doing to annoy him—which couldn’t be further from the truth, because all poor Eddie ever wanted was to please his daddy.
But he couldn’t, and he couldn’t change the narrow minds of other townsfolk, and in a town as small as Wedding Tree, where everybody knew everybody else’s business, well, it was no wonder Eddie went to college in California and never moved back. How old is he now? Fifty- or sixty-something? So odd to think that my baby is that old. The top of his head, all bald like that, looks a lot like it did the day he was born. The sight makes me want to cry. Oh, how I wish I could see Eddie’s face!
All of a sudden, Eddie is framed in a portrait lens.
Oh, my—my soul is a camera! Well, that makes sense. It’s been an extension of my body throughout my life. I’ve been taking pictures for so long that I tend to frame things, to look at them and move my right finger, as if I’m pressing the shutter. This moment—freeze it, capture it, make it live forever. And this moment. And this one. And this one here.
“She pressed my hand,” a young woman says.
My view twirls as if my head were on a swivel mount. Click. Oh, there’s my granddaughter, Hope, sitting on my right, holding my hand. Such a lovely girl . . . So beautiful, with her wavy light brown hair and eyes the color of iced tea—so much like my late daughter, Rebecca.
The thought sends a stab of pain through me. “Is Becky with you?” I ask Mother.
“She’s on this side, but they wouldn’t let her come with me. Said you don’t get to see her until you clean up the mess you’ve made down there.”
“You mean . . . I’m going to get well?”
“Well, now, Adelaide, that’s like everything else in life. It’s entirely up to you.”
Was it? Was it really? I wasn’t sure that anything in my life had really been my doing—except for the mistakes, of course.
Mother levels me with a steely frown. “If you know what’s good for you, missy, you’ll get back down there and unleash the truth.”
Unleash—as if it were a dangerous animal. Well, that is about right. “I was trying to when I ended up here.”
“You were going about it all wrong. You need Hope’s help.”
I look back at my granddaughter. She looks so sad—sadder than she should look at the prospect of an old woman passing. She’d been sad when I’d last seen her, too—which was when? I was fuzzy about the recent past. All I knew was that when that cad of her ex-husband cheated on her, he’d stolen something from her—something more than her inheritance and her art gallery and her home, all of which he’d purloined right out from under her. That lowlife had robbed her of her view of herself as lovely and lovable.
We females are so vulnerable to that. Most of the women I’d photographed over the years didn’t have a clue how lovely they really were. They’d look in the mirror and just see flaws—then, years later, when they looked back through their old pictures, they always exclaimed, “I was so thin back then!” or “I had such nice skin!” In the present moment, so many beautiful things go unseen, eclipsed by some over-imagined imperfection.
Men don’t have that problem with their physical appearance—at least, not the straight ones. They all think they’re irresistible just the way they are. Most of them, of course, are completely deluded. But other men, like Joe . . .
Oh, why was I thinking of Joe now? I did not—not—want him to be my dying thought, not after spending so much of my life trying to forget about him.
“You get back down there and tell Hope everything,” Mother says.
My soul flushes scarlet. Oh Lord—was this a foretaste of hell, having my mother read my thoughts? Mother shot me her most reproving look.
“I—I don’t see how that will make a difference,” I mentally stammer.
“Yours is not to wonder why; yours is but to do or die. Now get to it, and no dillydallying.” Mother turns her neat bun toward me, as if she were about to leave, then whips back around. “And be sure to dig up what Charlie buried.”
The beeping machine attached to the old woman in the bed stops for a moment, then rat-a-tat-tats like a high-speed shutter. “What? What did he bury?”
She lifts her eyebrows in that I’ll-brook-no-nonsense way of hers. “That’s what you need to find out, isn’t it?”
My soul flutters. “Do you know? My memory isn’t very . . .”
“You didn’t forget.” Mother’s voice is cold steel. “You never had the nerve to find out, and this is your last chance to rectify the situation.”
“But . . .”
But Mother is gone. Not so much as a vapor trail remains.
A feeling of suction, as if I were being vacuumed downward from the ceiling, followed by heaviness, and then . . . Oh, my head! Oh, how it hurt. And my chest! Heavens to Betsy! Mother hadn’t said anything about my chest.
“She’s awake!” my granddaughter says. “Gran’s eyes are open.”
I stare at her. She looks a little like Becky, but she isn’t. Becky is gone. Hope is alive.
And apparently, so am I. Although I have to say, it doesn’t seem to have much to recommend it.
Do you know what day it is, Mrs. McCauley?” Dr. Warren leaned over Gran and shined a penlight in her eyes.
Gran scowled. “Of course I do.”
I wasn’t so sure. Gran had seemed to recognize me when she first opened her eyes, but then she’d closed them again, and when she reopened them a moment later, she called me by my mother’s name. I’d hated to correct her, because her eyes had held such a blue sky full of happy that I didn’t want to disappoint her.
Eddie had done it for me. “It’s Hope, Mom. Becky is gone, remember?”
Uh-oh. Uncle Eddie and I had exchanged a glance. Fortunately, that was the moment Dr. Warren—an angular, hawk-nosed man in a heavily starched white coat—had stepped into the room. I’d relinquished my bedside seat and stood with Eddie and Ralph as the doctor had asked Gran to move her arms and legs, to turn her head, to stick out her tongue, and to perform half a dozen other motor tasks. She’d passed each test with flying colors. Dr. Warren moved the light to Gran’s left eye. “So what day is it?”
“Friday,” Gran said.
The doctor moved the light to her right eye, then switched it off. “Actually, it’s Sunday, Mrs. McCauley.”
“Oops!” Gran gave a sheepish grin. “Guess I had one of those lost weekends I’ve always heard about.”
I laughed along with everyone else, but I was worried. Gran’s memory had always been encyclopedic. Facts, dates, numbers—she was more reliable than Wikipedia.
“Glad to see you still have your sense of humor,” Eddie said.
Gran squinted up at him. “Charlie?”
Eddie’s face fell. “No, Mom. It’s Eddie.”
“Oh, yes, yes, of course. Eddie, dear. And . . .” She frowned at Ralph.
“Ralph,” the lanky man supplied, putting his hand on Eddie’s shoulder. “Eddie’s partner.”
“Yes, yes, so nice to see you. When did you two get in from Chicago?”
“We live in San Francisco, Mom. Becky and Hope lived in Chicago.”
“Oh right.” Her blue-veined hand went to her forehead. “Is Becky here?”
Eddie and I exchanged another look. “She died, Mom. Three years ago. Her car crashed, remember?”
“Oh no.” Gran’s hand drifted down her mouth. Tears formed in the corners of her eyes. “Oh, dear. I . . . I’d forgotten.”
My fingers tightened on the steel railing. In the first few weeks after Mom’s death, sometimes I’d awaken and have a pain-free moment. Then the memory would hit, and my heart would squeeze like a wrung-out dishrag, and I’d feel all tight and twisted and knotted up. I hoped Gran wasn’t going through that hard, searing, brand-new pain all over again.
“Loss of memory is typical of a head injury,” Dr. Warren said, adjusting his wire-rim glasses on his hooked nose. He was looking at Gran, but I’m pretty sure he was really speaking to Eddie and me. “So is emotional lability and confusion.”
Gran’s gaze landed on me. The lack of recognition in her eyes alarmed me.
“I’m Hope,” I volunteered. “Your granddaughter.”
“Oh, yes, yes, of course. Hope, honey! It’s so good to see you. My mind is all clouded up right now—you’ll have to excuse me. How long have you been here?”
“Since early this morning.” The clock on the wall said it was nearly four o’clock in the afternoon, which meant I’d been there for about twelve hours. “I came as soon as I heard.”
I’d gotten the call from Gran’s next-door neighbor, Mrs. Ivy, at eight thirty Saturday night. I’d been in my sublet apartment in Chicago, pulling on my pajama bottoms—the ones optimistically printed with sheep jumping over fences—and surfing the on-demand cable TV menu for a movie I could stand to watch.
Which isn’t as easy as it sounds, now that I’ve grown bored with revenge movies. I’ve been bloodthirsty for nearly twelve months, and I consider it a sign of progress that I’ve moved beyond wishing the horrible, painful, humiliating things portrayed on the screen would happen to my ex-husband.
Still, I can’t stomach romances. All those happily-ever-afters make me want to hurl. I can’t stand movies about friends, either, because the woman I’d caught in my bed with my husband had been my very best friend—my high school BFF, my college roommate, the maid of honor at my wedding, who’d helped me pick out the very linens she was lying under my husband on.
So anyway, I was surfing for a quirky independent film, or maybe an action/adventure movie, while tugging ...
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Book Description Condition: New. Seller Inventory # 26069709-n
Book Description Thorndike Press Large Print, 2016. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M1410489108
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Book Description Thorndike Press, United States, 2016. Hardback. Condition: New. large type edition. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. Seller Inventory # BTE9781410489104