Patchwork Family

Patchwork Family

Bonnie Tharp

March 2014 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-472-3

Sometimes beautiful things come from odd pieces of fabric, and it doesn't matter if they're a little tattered. They still keep you warm. Just like family.

 
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

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Annabelle Hubbard thinks she has good reason to be exhausted all the time: she’s the caretaker for three good-hearted but challenging grandkids and a three-legged cat named Ms. Pickles, plus she feels awkward about settling like a charity case into her grandmother’s home, now owned by her wealthy cousin Regina in Wichita, Kansas.

Regina and Annabelle have never been close, but Regina doesn’t begrudge her beleaguered cousin one bit of help. Family is family! After all, Annabelle supports Regina’s romance with silver-haired Wichita attorney Sam Duncan, who encourages Regina to believe in herself again after years with a cheating husband.

But Regina and Annabelle’s kinship is put to the test when Annabelle’s ex-con son-in-law shows up demanding to get to know his kids.

As Annabelle sets out on a healthy new lifestyle while accepting the romantic advances of a retired coach, Regina wrestles with Sam’s marriage proposal, and the dramas of their quickly stitched-together family tug at the seams.

Will this patchwork family survive?

 


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Excerpt

 

Chapter 1

SIPPING HER COFFEE, Annabelle Morgan Hubbard glanced at her friend over the cup. "I don’t know why you put up with me, Tillie. I’m sixty-seven years old and I can’t cook. I’m not much of a housekeeper, I’ve never held a job, and about the only talent I have is with a needle and thread.”

"I envy you that talent, dear friend. But I must tell you that the way to win the heart of a man is with sticky cinnamon nut rolls.”

Sighing, Annabelle said, "Then I’m doomed. I don’t bake any better than I cook. Don’t you remember the cherry pie disaster last year?”

Tillie Linden laughed, "Who can forget? Salt instead of sugar, what a nasty mess. Uh, no offense...” She reached out to pat Annabelle’s arm.

I’ve had enough of the wrong man to last me a lifetime. Who needs the heartache?

"Besides, there are no male prospects in my future and frankly I don’t want any. How long has it been for you and Joe?”

"I can’t believe I’ve been married over a year already,” Tillie said. The tiny, fifty-eight-year-old woman pulled her fingers through her white curls. "And I’ve got hair again! I was hoping more of the blonde would show when I was done with chemo, but nope, it’s white as a marshmallow.”

"I told you it would grow back. And it’s pretty. Now if I could just do something with this mop.” Annabelle patted her own fuzzy, styleless locks, leaned against the ladder-back chair and turned to face her friend.

"Ah, honey, it’s just luck,” Tillie said. "I got some great hair genes, but I’ll trade all this and half my teeth to be entirely shed of the cancer genes.” Tillie squeezed Annabelle’s hand.

"How long has it been since your last chemo treatment?”

"Thirteen months, sixteen days, but who’s counting?” Tillie’s dark chocolate-brown eyes sparkled. She sipped her coffee and grimaced before setting the cup back on the table.

"That’s wonderful; I’d be counting, too.” Annabelle noticed her friend’s frown. "Are you feeling okay?”

Although Tillie’s face was pale, her friend’s requisite khaki slacks, slogan t-shirt and walking shoes made her appear healthy to the casual eye. But they’d been through a lot together this past year, what with her daughter Liddy’s death, Tillie’s mastectomy, the grandchildren moving in and Regina moving out. Tillie had been a trooper through it all. Annabelle and her cousin Regina couldn’t ask for a more loyal friend.

"I feel fit as an Amazon warrior, even if I am only five-foot-nothing.” Tillie flexed her arm like a muscleman.

"If you weren’t a warrior, you wouldn’t have beat that disease and captured the heart of a nice man like Joe Linden.” When the handsome retired Air Force officer moved into the house across the street, Annabelle, Regina and Tillie felt excitement in the air. But Joe only had eyes for Tillie, the feistiest of the bunch. Taking a deep breath, Annabelle felt tightness in her chest. She tucked her shaking hands into her ample lap. "Would you like more coffee?”

"No, thanks. Between Joe’s wake-up nudge, a two-mile walk and a mug of your motor oil java, I’ve had enough stimulation to keep me going for the rest of the day.” Tillie took her cup to the sink, pouring the last half down the drain.

"Is my coffee that bad?” Annabelle sniffed the contents of her cup and frowned.

"Not really, Belle, it’s just that Joe’s spoiled me rotten. He makes better coffee than the mega-million-dollar coffee shops. Nobody can compete. Walk me to the door?” Tillie waited for her friend.

"Sure.” Rising, Annabelle said, "It still feels odd to be in this old house without Regina complaining about the mess or me or the grandkids. Even after a year.”

Though Annabelle was the oldest of the cousins by eight years, Regina had inherited their Grandmother Morgan’s house. The century-old Victorian home nestled in the Riverside area of Wichita had been in the Morgan family for generations. Regina’s snobbish mother, Victoria, raised her like a porcelain doll—never to be played with or risk getting dirty. Victoria’s sister, Rose, the youngest and Annabelle’s mother, dreamt of living in the country. Recalling her happy childhood, Annabelle knew she’d been raised with love, but little money. Quite the contrast with her well-to-do cousin’s upbringing, and the major rift between them.

They walked through the formal dining room on their way to the front door. Annabelle glanced at the Morgan family crystal and china.

Becoming the steward of the Morgan family heirlooms probably left Aunt Victoria smoldering in her grave. She would never have allowed such an unworthy person as myself care for them.

"Speaking of the grandkids, how are the little darlings?”

Entering the cluttered parlor, Annabelle could almost hear Regina snort in disgust. Magazines, books, shoes, assorted children’s clothing littered the room, looking like a small explosion had distributed the debris at random.

"They took Ms. Pickles for a walk this morning and almost missed their buses.”

"You’re kidding, right?” Tillie asked. "You don’t walk a cat, especially not a three-legged cat.”

Annabelle smiled. "We know that, but tell it to a ten-year-old. I imagine that Megan carried Ms. Pickles so Tad didn’t step on her with his huge feet. He’s fourteen and I’m afraid that’s what size his feet will be if he doesn’t stop growing.”

"Think of it this way—he’s got a firm foundation,” Tillie said. "And Peg? Where was she in all this?” They stopped in the foyer. The front door was flanked by floor to ceiling windows covered in sheer curtains. The spring sunlight filtered onto the hard wood floor, casting rectangular pools.

"Peggy spent the night at her friend Malissa’s. They probably fixed each other’s hair, slathered on makeup and called boys.”

"My Lord. I guess she is almost sixteen. What on earth are you going to do when she starts dating alone instead of in groups?” Tillie opened the oak door and paused.

Annabelle’s hand clutched the front of her dress. "Have a heart attack.”

"If it were me, my hair would be gone again, one handful at a time.” Tillie stepped onto the wrap-around porch, calling over her shoulder. "You take care of yourself. Don’t let the kids get you down. Joe and I are just across the street if you need us. And Regina is only a phone call away.”

"Thanks, Tillie. I appreciate everything you and Joe have done for us. You’re good friends. I probably should give Regina a call. Maybe we’ll have her and Sam over for dinner, but not before the kids and I clean the place up.”

Tillie turned and winked. "Wise woman. See you later.”

Watching Tillie’s energetic march across the yard made Annabelle’s breath catch. "I’m only sixty-seven, and I can hardly walk across the room without sitting down for a rest. It’s time to go back on a diet. Maybe Doc will take pity on me and give me something to help the process along. Good thing I have an appointment today. I’m too young to feel this rough.” She shook her head when she realized she’d been talking to herself—again. "Get a grip.”

Her three grandkids were a mess, but she loved them. It had been a challenging year. The pain of their mother’s accidental death had faded along with the bruises her abuse had inflicted on them. Tad’s broken arm had healed quickly, as young bones often do, but the nightmare of his mother breaking it had not. At least he no longer woke up screaming with fear. Tillie had suggested they check into family therapy at the Child Guidance Center. At the time, Annabelle resisted, afraid the cost would be prohibitive, but after six months of therapy they reaped the benefits. Annabelle was getting her chance to make things right, to undo the mistakes she’d made with her daughter Liddy, their mother.

The phone rang in the kitchen, disrupting Annabelle’s thoughts. She shuffled down the hall and snatched up the receiver. "Heh... low?” She panted, gulping for air.

"Annabelle? Is that you?” Regina asked.

"Hello. Sorry, I was just saying goodbye to Tillie.”

"What did you do, race her to the door?”

Annabelle chuckled, "No. And I’m fine, thanks for asking.” She knew her cousin would ignore the sarcasm.

"You don’t sound fine. I called to make sure the family home was still standing and to ask you to watch Sugar for the weekend.”

"This house may be more than a hundred-years-old, but it’s sturdy. It’ll even survive us. We’d love to see Sugar. Tad’s crazy about that dog.” She hesitated. "Ms. Pickles isn’t too fond of her, but Megan will see that no harm comes to the cat or the dog’s nose.” Annabelle twirled the phone cord around her finger.

We really should upgrade this phone. Ah, well, this one still works.

"Great. We’ll bring her by Friday after Sam gets home from the office and pick her up Sunday afternoon.”

Taking slow calming breaths, Annabelle could still feel her heart pounding. "That’ll be fine. Don’t forget to bring plenty of dog food. We ran out last time. Ms. Pickles had a fit when her cat food disappeared.”

"That cat has no sense of humor.” Regina laughed. "See you Friday.”

"Bye.” Annabelle eased down onto the kitchen chair, pressing her closed fist to her chest. "Probably heartburn. Too much coffee and cookie dough,” she said. The mantle clock struck the half hour. "Oh, it’s eight-thirty. I have to go if I’m going to make my appointment.”

She changed her dress, pulled on a cardigan, grabbed her pocketbook and was out the back door in minutes. The former carriage house now doubled as a garage with a playroom overhead for the kids. Fumbling for the button, she pressed the garage door opener and walked up to her shiny 1970 Rambler Rebel.

Tillie and Joe had given it to her as a house-warming present after Joe replaced the engine. "No self-respecting grandmother can be without wheels with three grandkids to taxi around,” Joe had said.

A real beauty, too, metallic gold outside with an aging tan interior, once driven by the proverbial "little old lady from Wichita” and garaged all its life. And who wouldn’t love a car named "Rebel,” something she had never really been.

Annabelle had sewn new seat covers out of an old bedspread she’d found in the attic, making the seats warm and comfortable. No one liked the feel of vinyl on bare skin.

Regina had laughed when she saw them. "Mother’s ghost probably haunted you for a week after you ransacked the attic, desecrating her property. Where did you find the fabric?”

"In Grandmother Morgan’s cedar chest,” Annabelle said. "Going to waste.”

"The cabbage rose pattern is so you.”

Annabelle had thought so, too. She drove to Dr. Miller’s office with both hands clutching the steering wheel, shoulders hunched. Doc had retired six months ago, but not before he’d taken on a handsome young partner, Dr. Joshua Stamp. The sign still said Miller and Stamp, but Doc Miller spent his days on the golf course—rain or shine. She pulled up in front of the strip mall that housed their office and parked by the door.

Heaving a sigh, she scooped up her purse and went inside, five minutes early. A buzzer sounded in the back as she entered the empty waiting room. Annabelle noticed the intermingled aromas of flowers, antiseptic and the receptionist’s perfume.

She must bathe in the stuff, like an eighty-year-old Avon lady. I’m glad we’re not in an elevator...

"That you, Annabelle?” Rachel called from the back. "Be right there.”

Annabelle sat in front of the window watching the cars zip by on West Thirteenth Street. She glanced toward the back hallway where Rachel emerged, popping a wad of pink gum.

What a bad habit for a woman in her fifties.

Medium height and chunky, Rachel had brown streaks through her gray hair. She dressed nicely, but she always had gum in her mouth that showed when she talked.

"Hi there. Come on back to room two. Doc will be in with you in a minute.” Motioning Annabelle to follow, Rachel held open the door, slipping a chart in the slot outside.

‘Pop’ goes Rachel’s gum and my last nerve.

Once inside the tiny room, Annabelle sat on the visitor’s chair instead of the exam table with its cold metal stirrups. She clutched her purse in her lap, taking slow deep breaths. "What in the devil are you afraid of?”

The door clicked open and a Johnny Depp look-alike walked in. He held out his hand to her, "Good morning, Annabelle. How’s my favorite patient?”

She felt heat rise in her cheeks.

He’s so cute.

"I’m fine, Dr. Josh.”

"I don’t think so.”

"I suppose.” She slipped a tissue from her bag, folded it and began dabbing her damp palms.

"Tell me, how are you really?” He used his feet to roll his stool to a spot a scant foot in front of her.

"I’m tired all the time.” She fisted her hands.

"Understandable, you’ve got three grandchildren at home. You’re supposed to be enjoying your empty nest years, not traipsing all over town herding teens.” He took her chin in his hand, quickly flashing a light in one eye then the other. "What else?”

"I’ve been having a lot of heart burn.”

"Are you eating spicy foods?” He checked each ear.

"Not really. I just feel pressure in my chest. Sometimes, I find it hard to breathe.” She watched as he scooted across the room, grabbed a wooden tongue depressor and crab walked back, never rising from the stool.

"Say, ‘Ah’.” He looked inside her mouth.

"I think it’s time we did some tests. Let’s make sure there’s nothing seriously wrong. Once we rule out the bad stuff, then we’ll see what kind of annoying little thing it could be.” He pulled a pen out of his pocket to write in her chart.

"When?” Annabelle asked.

"How about now?”

"So soon?” She watched him roll his stool back into the corner of the room and open the door.

"Rachel, get Shelley for me please. Annabelle needs a few tests.”

Annabelle stared, her heartbeat thudding in her ears.

What now?


 

 

Chapter 2

LONG BLACK-AND-SILVER waves of hair cascaded over the pillow and onto the sheets. Regina smiled at the ceiling, content, while Sam circled her nipple with his huge finger. In the past year she had learned how to love, not only the bear-like man beside her, but love herself as a woman. At fifty-nine, she’d discarded the men’s pajamas she’d always preferred. Now, she reveled in the feel of cool cotton sheets upon her warm, bare skin and the feel of hot flesh against flesh.

Warm moist breath sent goose bumps shimmering up her body.

"Go away, Sugar, you’re distracting the object of my attention,” Sam said.

Regina scratched the Labrador Retriever under her silky neck. "Good morning, sweetie.”

The white haired hunk beside her snorted, "Fine, say good morning to the canine and just ignore me.” The bed rocked as he turned away.

"Go lay down, baby girl, I have something to attend to,” Regina said. Taking her time, she rolled to face Sam. Sliding her arms around his waist, she scooted into his warm back, tucking her knees behind his.

"Good morning.” Her breath blew on the back of his neck.

"Hi.”

Wiggling against his backside, she felt his breath catch, then escape with a sigh.

"You’re happy, aren’t you, Reg?” He cradled her arm against his body.

"Ahuh.” She kissed his broad shoulder.

"You know I love you.”

"I know. I love you, too.” She stroked his stomach.

"Then, marry me.” He turned his head to look over his shoulder.

"Sam, darling, we are married.” She kissed his cheek.

"Not legally.” He sighed then turned away.

"Common law marriage is legal in the state of Kansas, is it not?”

"Yes, but we have to pool our resources, present ourselves as a married couple, file joint tax returns and cohabitate. The latter we do, but...”

"No, buts, Mister. We don’t need a piece of paper to declare our love. So what if we each have our own money? Financial security isn’t an issue. What is the problem, my fine man?” She found herself inching away, the cool air a shock to the fire between their bodies.

Regina felt her ardor start to cool. How a man of Sam’s strength could be insecure, she’d never understand.

"It just feels temporary, that’s all.”

"Darling, we’re almost sixty, and life is temporary. Let’s enjoy each other and not complicate things with papers and promises. For the first time in my life, I feel real love. That won’t go away.”

He rolled over to face her. "You’re right, of course. I have to go to work today. Want to make me breakfast?” He slipped a lock of her hair behind her ear.

"How do you want your Grape Nuts? With milk or yogurt?”

"Surprise me.” Rolling out of bed, he headed toward the shower.

Regina stretched, smiling at the creaks in her knees. She might be considered mature, but she was pretty fit. She’d always been blessed with a tall slender frame, unlike her chunky cousin, Annabelle.

Sugar padded back into the room and gave a quiet woof.

"I’ll bet you’re ready for breakfast, too, aren’t you, girl?” Regina rolled onto her feet, slipping Sam’s tee shirt over her head. It hung off of one shoulder, covered her to mid thigh, smelling of aftershave and his wonderful scent.

It doesn’t get much better than this.

She put the coffee on and set out a bowl of cereal. Regina leaned against the counter braiding her hair into one long rope of black and gray, watching Sugar gobble her kibble until Sam joined them in the kitchen.

"You look pretty good in my undershirt, woman.” He slipped his arm around her waist, kissing her neck.

Eying the starched shirt, crisp gray slacks and polished loafers, Regina grinned. "You don’t look bad yourself.”

He patted her behind then raised an eyebrow. "My, you’re getting quite liberated. No panties for Regal Regina?”

Chuckling, she said, "It’s about time, don’t you think? Mother never allowed me out of my room without ‘proper attire.’”

"I’m glad my dad was her lawyer. I don’t think I would’ve liked your mother much. She was gone when I took over the business. I’ve heard you and Annabelle both speak of her coldness. I just can’t see how such a frigid woman could have borne such a hot daughter.” His blue eyes crinkled, but he forced the corners of his mouth from turning up too far.

"Flattery will get you everywhere.” Regina sat down beside him. She sipped her coffee while he ate.

"Beautiful, elegant, Mother was like a porcelain doll. Deep down I really wanted to be more like her sister. Aunt Rose was more free-spirited.”

"More like you are now.” Sam picked up her hand and kissed the palm. "You’re a beautiful mix of both.”

"Thank you, Sam. That’s the best compliment I could ever have.” Her sly smile suggested she’d be willing to thank him properly if only he’d ask.

"Now, don’t you do that, or you’ll have me cuddling up with you and not getting to work on time.” He reached out, cupping her chin.

"Very well, off with you then. I’ll see you later, but don’t expect me to fix dinner, too. We’ll eat out or you’ll have to grill something. I have a blank canvas upstairs, with a picture forming in my brain as we speak.”

"Very well, I’m off.” Sam kissed the top of her head on his way out.

She sat for a few more minutes, enjoying the slurping sounds Sugar made over her bowl. Regina’s paintings had been modestly successful, adding to the money her parents left her. She’d never wanted for anything in her entire life, except their affection. They were too busy with "society” to nurture their own child.

When the Lab finished, she tried to nuzzle Regina’s arm.

"Oh, no you don’t, Miss Slobber Lips. Let’s wipe your mouth and get to work.” Regina could just imagine her mother’s cross words about filthy animals in the house. Victoria never knew the joy of animal companionship. Come to think of it, she couldn’t recall her mother enjoying anything. Victoria had been a cold fish, and Regina had spent most of her life trying to be just like her.

What a waste.

 


 

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