The three Long sisters of Welleswood, New Jersey, felt they could handle any problem, any crisis together
But suddenly, each was facing the most critical challenge of her life. Andrea, a single mom, was in a fight for survival, against cancer. Madge, who'd once lived a storybook life, needed to find forgiveness--if she ever could--for a husband who'd kept a shocking secret ...
The three Long sisters of Welleswood, New Jersey, felt they could handle any problem, any crisis together
But suddenly, each was facing the most critical challenge of her life. Andrea, a single mom, was in a fight for survival, against cancer. Madge, who'd once lived a storybook life, needed to find forgiveness--if she ever could--for a husband who'd kept a shocking secret for years. Jenny, pregnant with her third child, longed to keep her husband's dream alive, whatever the sacrifice.
To get through it all, they would have to lean on one another as never before, trusting that their love and hope--and their faith, no matter how far it was tested--would see them through.
Parr (A Place Called Trinity) leaves both St. Martin's and historical fiction with this novel, a mostly successful foray into contemporary inspirational fiction. The heartwarming story stars three middle-aged sisters dealing with the ordinary ins and outs of life. The eldest is Andrea, a widowed real estate agent battling cancer. Next in line is Madge, the well-heeled wife of a businessman, who thrives on taking care of everyone around her. The 42-year-old baby of the family is Jenny, a mother of two who works as a nurse so her husband can stay at home with the kids and try to write a novel. The three sisters rely not only on each other, but also on their solid Christian faith, as they cope with family crises, professional contretemps and even-in Andrea's case-50-something dating. Parr is to be commended for her character development; each sister is well differentiated. The novel is also tightly plotted. Each sister faces a trial, and each trial is resolved (perhaps too tidily). That the book ends with a confirmation of traditional gender roles is predictable, but still disappointing. But all in all, this represents another strong offering from Steeple Hill. (Aug. 29) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Surrounded by animated conversations and mouthwatering aromas, Andrea Long Hooper waited for her sisters in one of The Diner's corner booths, gazing out the plate-glass window to distract herself from being overwhelmed by memories of Sandra.
Bright July sunshine reflected on the windshields of the cars that eased by on Welles Avenue and circled around the old bronze monument that anchored the community. While some residents drove off to start another workday, still others filled the commuter rail that bisected the town of Welleswood, carrying them across the Delaware River to work in nearby Philadelphia.
Inside The Diner, the regulars, mostly retired folks from the nearby senior-citizens complex, sipped at coffee and enjoyed the daily special: one scrambled egg, one strip of bacon, a small glass of orange juice and coffee or tea with unlimited refills. No substitutions. All for $1.95. Served daily, from six to eight.
Only a few years ago, Welleswood's business district along the main street had been an odd mix of thrift shops, convenience stores and empty storefronts that kept The Diner sorry company. Concrete sidewalks, dark with age and automobile soot, had invited little foot traffic, other than neighborhood children making their way to school or the community swimming pool, which was a relic from a community-building program during the Great Depression. A lone gas station at the far end of town had closed, along with the lumberyard and movie theater, all victims of suburban flight in the sixties and seventies that had left Welleswood gasping for breath.
With no small measure of pride, Andrea glanced up and down "theavenue"--only newcomers ever called Welles Avenue by its official name. The Town Restoration Committee, formed twelve years ago by a coalition of local businesspeople, town politicians and concerned citizens, had helped to breathe new life into the town that she and her family had called home for four generations. Armed with federal and state grant money, along with a daring business plan that had incited equal numbers of avowed enthusiasts and raucous critics in the early going, the committee had achieved phenomenal success.
Welleswood's renaissance was nearly complete. Restored sidewalks, replete with brick walkways, new light posts, benches and gardens filled with potted plants from early spring through late fall, invited strollers and window shoppers, along with buyers. With restored storefronts, trendy shops offering everything from apparel to handcrafted specialties, several jewelers and banks and a handful of small, upscale restaurants drew shoppers weary of chain stores and malls. The movie theater had been lovingly restored as a community theater, and the lumberyard had been converted into Antiques Row. The town itself had purchased the gas-station property and replaced the eyesore with a Community Center, shared by the town's teens and seniors.
The renewal of the business district had other, well-anticipated effects. Property values soared. Church attendance also increased. Folks started moving back to Welles-wood. Others planted deeper roots.
And through it all, The Diner remained a quaint little restaurant that offered generous servings of homemade food along with a comfortable place to rest, either before or after shopping. No one ever suggested it was time to leave to make room for someone else, either. A place just like...home.
For Andrea and her sisters, there was simply no place more fitting than The Diner for holding their Sisters' Breakfasts, a tradition they had followed for years, commemorating the birthdays of their beloved sibling and parents, instead of the dates on which they had left this world to go Home.
As the town's only real estate agent, Andrea had done well. Remarkably well, considering she started her agency with little more than courage and a belief that her home-town deserved better. The lean years she had spent as a widow, raising two children on her own, had given way to a comfortable living, especially now that Rachel and David were grown.
But Andrea was in no mood to think about her success. Not today.
Especially not now.
She patted the worn red vinyl cushion at her side and traced several cracks with her fingertips. She bowed her head and swallowed a lump in her throat as memories from nearly every one of her fifty-seven years tugged at her heart-strings. This was the first time she and her sisters would gather here for a Sisters' Breakfast without Sandra, and Andrea could not help but wonder if the next breakfast would be for her own birthday. Facing the death of a loved one was hard. Facing her own mortality cut a deeper swath of fear in her heart than she imagined possible.
Before she could take another step down the path of self-pity, she heard the bell over the door tinkle, looked up and saw Jenny coming inside. Andrea smiled and waved her baby sister over to the booth and tried not to let her brows furrow too deeply.
Jenny Long Spencer was forty-two, but looked more like sixty-two today. Every one of the twelve hours Jenny had worked overnight in the emergency room at Mercy General across the river in Philadelphia had etched exhaustion on her face. She walked as if she had the weight of the world on her slumped shoulders, and her scrubs were wrinkled and splotched with a variety of stains. Her makeup had all but disappeared, her lopsided ponytail bounced as she walked, and her eyes were red from weariness as she dropped into the seat opposite Andrea.
Jenny had always claimed that she enjoyed her role as breadwinner while her husband, Michael, stayed home to raise their two young daughters and wait for his muse to inspire him yet again. Today, however, she looked so tired that Andrea could see firsthand how hard Jenny had to work while Michael was at home....
"Gosh, it feels good to sit down!" Jenny admitted.
"Unusually busy last night?"
Jenny scratched the tip of her nose, tipped her head back and slowly rotated her head, stretching taut neck muscles. "Not really. Just your typical summer night in an urban hospital. An emergency appendectomy. Two car crashes. One motorcycle accident. A couple of stabbings and gunshot wounds. No fatalities, though," she managed.
Andrea shook her head. "I honestly don't know how you do it, or why you'd want to do it. Not when you could be at home--"
"I work there because I'm a good ER nurse and because it's what Michael and I decided is best for us," Jenny said defensively. "Where's Madge?" she asked, clearly anxious to change the subject.
Before Andrea could answer, the restaurant's owner, Caroline, arrived with a tray. "Running later than you. As usual. Here's your decaf and a fresh iced tea for you, Andrea. I'll keep an eye out for your sister, too," she teased, then promptly moved to the next table.
Jenny's frown turned into a grin. "You can't get away with a thing here, can you? Poor Madge. We'll have to make sure we put something special on her tombstone...something like, "She finally made it on time."
Andrea rolled her eyes, relieved that Jenny's natural good humor had returned. "I don't even want to think about what you'd put on mine. Or anyone else's tombstone, for that matter," she added, if only to divert her thoughts away from the very real possibility that a tombstone was in her own near future. "You know Madge. She had a last minute stop for something. Or a last minute phone call. Or a meandering drive in her new convertible. Or she lost track of time working in her garden."
Jenny added some cream to her coffee. "Sandra used to get so mad at her. She nearly missed one of her doctor appointments once because Madge was late."
"Speaking of Madge..." Andrea pointed to the window.
"Here she comes."
By the time Jenny looked out of the window, Madge had pulled into a parallel spot across the street.
Andrea shook her head. "That's about the...the..."
"The purplest car you ever saw?" Jenny giggled. "Is that even a word? Purplest?"
Andrea nodded and turned her attention back to Jenny. "I suppose it is. She even made Roy, down at the car dealership, write it on the order. The convertible had to be the purplest it could be, despite the fact there was only one possible purple color the factory could use. I guess it just made her feel better to tell them what she wanted."
"Like the lavender top?"
Andrea chuckled. "No. They wouldn't even attempt that. The car came with a white top, but Russell made a few calls and found a place to custom order the lavender one before Madge even saw the white one."
"Well, I like it."
Andrea shook her head and stirred some artificial sweetener into her fresh tea. Madge had a storybook life: a devoted husband, Russell Stevens, who spoiled her; two successful, grown sons, Drew and Brett, who loved their mother to pieces; a valued place in the community. Madge also had both the time and the money to be as eccentric as she wanted to be, and because she was such a giving soul, most people forgave her most anything.
Andrea wondered what it might be like to have someone in her life to carry the financial burdens, then immediately snipped a tiny ribbon of jealousy that almost wrapped around her thoughts. "The car suits Madge, but honestly, I'm getting a little worried," Andrea admitted. "She's a little too obsessed with the color, if you ask me. Did you know when she ordered her annuals for her garden this year, she insisted that every flower had to be purple? She went online, got a list of every flowering plant with purple flowers that would grow in this area and took the list straight to the nursery! And that was after she bought new cushions for her patio furniture, all in purple."
Jenny took a sip of coffee and let out a sigh. "That's just her way."
"Well, it's harmless enough, I suppose. It's just odd."
"Sandra's favorite color was purple. Remember?" Startled, Andrea nearly choked on her tea. When she cleared her throat, she looked straight into Jenny's eyes.
"You're right. I'd...I'd forgotten."
Jenny offered a warm smile. "I think it makes Madge feel closer to Sandra. They spent an awful lot of time together. It's been nine months now since Sandra died, and I think it's Madge's way of saying, "I remember you, Sandra, and I miss you." Even if Madge doesn't realize it herself."
"What don't I realize?" Madge asked as she nudged Jenny to move over to make room for her to sit down. She laid a bakery box in the center of the table and slid in beside her younger sister.
"Time. Being on time is important," Andrea prompted gently, still mothering the sister who was younger by only two years. Old habits die hard.
Jenny stared at the bakery box and squealed. "Spinners! You stopped for Spinners!"
"They were Sandra's favorite so I thought we should have them today. In her memory," Madge suggested. Her eyes filled with tears, and she toyed with one of her amethyst earrings, the most recent of the gifts Russell invariably brought home with him from one of his sales trips.
Her words were barely spoken before Caroline appeared with a mug of decaf for Madge and a plate for the Spinners. "Here you go." She set the mug in front of Madge, opened the bakery box and lined the plate with the Spinners, which were bite-size pieces of sweet dough spun with cinnamon and smothered with either vanilla or chocolate icing or glazed with sugar. "Enjoy. I'll be back in a minute for your order," Caroline said, and carried the empty box away with her.
Jenny shook her head. "Caroline's such a dear. If I take outside food into the hospital cafeteria, they're ready to call a guard!"
"This is The Diner. She wants her customers to feel at home," Madge countered.
"Sandra once walked all the way to McAllister's to get Spinners during a blizzard. Remember?" Andrea took a chocolate Spinner and offered the first "Sandra story," officially beginning the Sisters' Breakfast. Tradition called for sharing memories, happy memories--from childhood to adulthood and anything in between.