Kathleen waited in the cold rain of a Seattle winter as her brother placed her suitcase in the trunk of his car. She felt as awkward and disoriented as she probably looked, standing there in her unfashionable wool coat and clumsy black shoes. For the last ten years she'd been Sister Kathleen, high school teacher and part-time bookkeeper for St. Peter's parish in Minneapolis. Her identity had been defined by her vocation.
Now she was simply Kathleen. And all she'd managed to accumulate in her years of service was one flimsy suitcase and a wounded heart. She had no savings, no prospects and no home. For the first time in her life, she was completely on her own.
"I'll do whatever I can to help you," Sean said, opening the car door for her.
"You already have." Tears stung her eyes as her brother backed out of his driveway. She'd spent the last two months living at his house, a small brick bungalow in this quiet neighborhood. "I can't thank you enough," she whispered, not wanting him to hear the emotion in her voice.
"Mom and Dad want you to come home."
"I can't." How did a woman who was nearly thirty years old go home? She wasn't a teenager who'd been away at school, a girl who could easily slip back into her childhood life.
"They'd never think of you as a burden, if that's what you're worried about," her brother said.
Perhaps not, but Kathleen was a disappointment to her family and she knew it. She didn't have the emotional strength to answer her parents' questions. Dealing with her new life was complicated enough.
"You're going to be all right," Sean assured her.
"I know." But Kathleen didn't entirely believe it. The world outside the convent was a frightening place. She didn't know what to expect or how to cope with all the changes that were hurtling toward her.
"You can call Loren or me anytime."
"Thank you." She swallowed hard.
Ten minutes later, Sean pulled up in front of the House of Peace, a home run by former nuns who helped others make the often-difficult transition from religious to secular life.
Kathleen stared at the large two-story white house. There was a trimmed laurel hedge on either side of the narrow walk-way that led to the porch. She saw the welcoming glow of lamplight in the windows, dispersing a little of the day's gloom.
Still, she missed the order and ritual of her life. There was a certain comfort she hadn't appreciated: rising, praying and eating, all in perfect synchronization with the day before. Freedom, unfamiliar as it was, felt frightening. Confusing.
With her brother at her side, Kathleen walked up the steps, held her breath and then, after a long moment, pressed the doorbell. Someone must have been on the other side waiting, because it opened immediately.
"You must be Kathleen." A woman of about sixty with short white hair and a pleasantly round figure greeted her.
"I'm Kay Dickson. We spoke on the phone."
Kathleen felt warmed by Kay's smile.
"Come in, come in." The other woman held open the door for them.
Sean hesitated as he set down Kathleen's suitcase. "I should be getting back home." His eyes questioned her, as if he was unsure about leaving his sister at this stranger's house.
"I'll be fine," she told him, and in that instant she knew it was true.
"Angie, come here," her father called in heavily accented English. "Taste this." He held out a wooden spoon dripping with rich marinara sauce.
Obediently Angelina put her mouth over the spoon and closed her eyes, distinguishing the different spices and flavors as they met her tongue. "Not enough basil. You should add fresh chopped parsley, too."
Her father roared with approval. "You're right!" He tossed the spoon into the restaurant's large stainless steel sink. Then he reached for eight-year-old Angie and lifted her high in the air before hugging her tightly. It was 1948, and Angie's world revolved around her father and, of course, the family-owned business, the restaurant named after her. It was a well-known fact that Angelina's served the finest Italian food in all of Buffalo, New York.
Unlike other children her age, Angie's first memories weren't of being plopped on Santa's knee in some department store for a candy cane and a photograph. Instead, she recalled the pungent scent of garlic simmering in extra-virgin olive oil and the soft hum as her mother bustled about the kitchen. Those were the warm years, the good years, during the big war, before her mother died in 1945.
Sometimes, late at night, she'd heard giggles coming from her parents' bedroom. She liked the sound and cuddled up in her thick blankets, her world secure despite all the talk of what was taking place an ocean away.
Then her beautiful mother who sang her songs and loved her so much was suddenly gone; she'd died giving birth to Angie's stillborn brother. For a while, any hint of joy and laughter disappeared from the house. A large black wreath hung on the front door, and people stopped, stared and shook their heads as they walked past.
Only five years old, Angie didn't understand where her mother had vanished, nor did it make sense when strangers crowded into her home. She was even more confused by the way they put their heads together and whispered as if she wasn't supposed to hear. A few wept openly, stopping abruptly when she entered the room.
All Angie understood was that her mother was gone and her father, her fun-loving, gregarious father, had grown quiet and serious and sad.
"You're going to be a good Catholic girl," he told her soon after her mother's death. "I promised your mother I'd raise you in the Church."
"Sé, Papa. "
"Use English," he insisted. "We live in America."
"I'll take you to Mass every Sunday, just like your mother wanted."
Angie listened intently.
"And when you start first grade you'll attend St. Gabriel, so the nuns can teach you."
She nodded; her father made this sound like a promise.
"It's just you and me now, Angelina," he whispered.
Excerpted from Changing Habits by Debbie Macomber Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd. . Excerpted by permission.
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