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Among the Tulips
By Cheryl Wolverton
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneYou say, "I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing." But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich ...
Revelation 3: 17, 18
"It's going to be your fortieth birthday. That calls for something really special. I say go for it!"
Thirty-nine-year-old Annie Hooper glanced at blond Cynthia, one of the friends she was having her early birthday dinner with. She shook her mousy brown-haired head at her fairer friend and thought again how different the two looked. Cynthia looked fresh from a salon while Annie felt she looked like ... a mother. "I don't even know where I'd go. Besides, the kids need me." Annie laid down her fork and lifted her napkin to pat her lips.
"Susan and Mark?" Amy piped up, her auburn eyebrows shooting up with a bit of disbelief. "Oh, come on, Annie. Mark is thirty-three and has a great job and Susan is thirty-two and is working as a nurse. Face it. Your stepkids are grown and need to stop depending on you for everything. They certainly don't need you here providing food and shelter for them. You have to start living again. You're still young."
Although Susan and Mark weren't officially her children, she thought of them as such, though they rarely called her Mom. No, they had their real mother, with whom they still stayed in contact. After running a hand through her hair she sighed. Unfortunately, the kids always had a way of guilting her into staying at home when she tried to plan something, like last year when she'd said she had been going to get a passport and had actually brought home some travel brochures. But her friends were right. She was young; the kids were older, so shouldn't she start living again?
Annie dropped her napkin on the table.
Her two friends sighed in unison.
They knew that wasn't all that was bothering her. "The kids still miss their dad," Annie said simply. She leaned back in the cushioned chair covered in lovely mauve brocade.
"It's been four years," Cynthia replied. "They need to move on with their life. You need to move on with your life." She too had finished her lunch. She nodded as the waitress took her empty plate.
It had been four years since Annie had lost her husband. They had been hard years in some ways, lonely years as well. Sometimes his death seemed as if it happened only yesterday, especially when problems were building up or the kids were pulling a number on her. At night, however, when she was alone in bed or watching something on TV, it seemed as if he'd been gone forever.
"You always said when Harry retired, you were going to go somewhere different for a real vacation," Amy added. "I know you got your passport last year with just such an intention." Amy took the last bite of her dessert and then handed her plate to the waitress.
Yes, Annie had gotten her passport. In a fit of frustration and desperation she'd decided she was going on a trip. Her kids, however, had been aghast that she'd forgotten their daddy so easily and was going to traipse off into the unknown.
"Your kids like knowing you're there so they can bum more of Daddy's money off you -" Cynthia started.
"And get you to do their laundry -" Amy added.
"This isn't about their dad being gone," Cynthia finished.
Annie lifted her water glass and took a sip, allowing the ice-cold water to wash down her throat and take away the building tension.
"I just don't know if I can travel there by myself or even if I should." Frustration slipped in, and she silently prayed for guidance. "It's crazy. I've always had someone there making the decisions for me and now ..."
"And now you're allowing your children to do that for you," Cynthia said gently.
"Honey, you deserve to get away." Amy picked up her iced tea and took a leisurely sip of the light golden brew. "You should go for it."
"I don't think I could simply up and leave the family. What would the kids do?"
How would the children react if she decided to go on this trip? Though Annie knew they used her and it was wearying, she still felt a responsibility for them.
That's what it boiled down to. When she'd married Harry, she'd inherited a young boy and his younger sister as immediate family. She'd been thrown into instant adulthood trying to raise two children.
Looking back, she realized she hadn't been ready for it. She'd been a child herself really at 17. She'd done her best, but had her best been good enough? The children's mother had never forgiven Harry for marrying Annie. And on every weekend and holiday that Michaela had had the children, she'd done her best to poison them against her.
Annie also had church responsibilities as well as friends there. Although most of her friends were gone, uncomfortable being around a widow or simply no longer having anything in common, she had one or two who she saw occasionally, including Amy and Cynthia. However, she was going to be starting a new job this fall as an art teacher at a local community center, and so this would make the perfect time to go - if she so chose.
Excerpted from Among the Tulips by Cheryl Wolverton Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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