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America's Heartland, 1946. World War II has ended, and everyone is pursuing peacetime's bright promise with fresh energy and hope. Newly-arrived in a small Wisconsin town, Christina Tucker now dares to chase her long-cherished dreams: put her wartime nursing skills to use and reconnect with country life. But helping a shell-shocked veteran recover soon tests her determination and disturbs town memories best left buried. She has no choice but to turn to her patient's seemingly-irresponsible brother, Tyler Sutter. ...
America's Heartland, 1946. World War II has ended, and everyone is pursuing peacetime's bright promise with fresh energy and hope. Newly-arrived in a small Wisconsin town, Christina Tucker now dares to chase her long-cherished dreams: put her wartime nursing skills to use and reconnect with country life. But helping a shell-shocked veteran recover soon tests her determination and disturbs town memories best left buried. She has no choice but to turn to her patient's seemingly-irresponsible brother, Tyler Sutter. A restless ex-soldier, Tyler can't believe this pretty ladylike nurse can heal his family. Yet as Christina begins to understand Tyler's own fears, the two grow close, then closer still-as a terrible secret sparks one man's violent, vengeful spree. With both the guilty and innocent alike in harm's way, Tyler and Christina must face all their fears . . . or never live to see the future.
Unspoken Words from the Beekeeper
I send you love on the wings of a bee.
That jar of honey on your doorstep came from me.
It promises sweetness we both can share,
And maybe, just maybe, you can learn to share.
I bare my arm to the pain of stings
To claim the prize that my daring brings.
I’ll give my heart just as eagerly
If one day you’ll give yours to me.
Christina Tucker gasped in fright as the jagged fork of lightning splintered across the darkening sky. Strong gusts of wind lashed the trees of the thick wood, bending boughs and violently rustling leaves. The fresh, strong scent of the storm enveloped her as if it were a blanket, overpowering. Heavy drops of rain suddenly began to fall, hammering against collapsed tree limbs and rocks, muddying the earth, and soaking her blouse to her skin. Thunder rolled toward her from close by, menacing. There was no chance to outrun the storm.
“Charlotte!” she shouted. “Charlotte! Where are you?”
Shivering from both cold and fear, Christina looked frantically for a sign of her older sister. Only moments earlier, Charlotte and their dog, Jasper, had been beside her as they hurried from one clearing to the next, racing between the massive evergreens and elms that surrounded Lake Washington, desperately trying to get home before the storm struck. She had only stopped for an instant to fix her shoe…
Now, she was completely alone.
“Charlotte!” she cried again in growing worry, her voice swallowed by the squall; there was still no answer.
Christina struggled to hold back her fears. She had no real sense of where she was. No matter what direction she turned, she saw only darkness, lit for a flickering instant by each flash of lightning. Though it was only late afternoon, the storm had brought heavy, dark clouds that shrouded the sky as black as night. Panicked, she could not remember what direction she had come from, or even where she had been headed. The lake might be in front of her or behind; if she knew where it was, she could have skirted its shore until she found town. But blindly stumbling into the brush would only make her more lost. Who knew what could happen? She could catch cold in the downpouring rain, stumble into a deep hole, twist her ankle, wander so far out into the tall trees that she would never be found, or, even worse, encounter a wild animal.
If only I were older than eight, Christina thought. Then I might know what to do…
The rain began to fall harder; it pounded the forest so relentlessly that Christina couldn’t hear any other sound. Every inch of her was drenched; raising her hand to shield her face couldn’t keep the water from getting into her eyes or from soaking her dark hair.
She was scared, alone, and quickly growing cold; though the summer day had been hot and humid, a typical August afternoon in Minnesota, the rain had brought with it a chill that set her shivering.
She needed to get home, quickly.
Suddenly, the sound of rustling leaves behind her broke through the overwhelming din of the storm. Spinning on her heel, Christina searched for some sign of what had made the noise, but she could see nothing. She strained to listen, hoping with all her heart that it was Charlotte finally coming back for her, or that maybe Jasper was rooting around, his worn old nose somehow managing to find her scent and reunite them. But with every passing second, nothing, or no one, revealed itself. When she heard the sharp sound of a stick snapping somewhere off to her left, she let out an involuntary gasp, her nerves pulled tighter than piano wire.
“Charlotte?” she asked. “Is that you?”
There was no answer.
BOOM! Thunder raced across the woods.
In that instant, in her mind, Christina heard the voice of her father as surely as if he were standing beside her. Over and over he had warned her about the dangers lurking in the woods around their home. Fox, wildcats, and even bears and wolves had been spotted, animals with sharp teeth and long claws, beasts capable of tearing her flesh from the bone. While there were beasts that walked on four legs, there were others who walked on two: men who were sick, who were desperate and depraved enough to hurt a little girl.
“Charlotte…,” her voice trailed, her eyes wide with fright.
When the leaves again began to rustle, Christina didn’t wait to see if anything emerged from the brush. At the first sound, she was off running, blindly careening through chokeberry shrubs, plunging past ninebark bushes, and trampling baneberry flowers beneath her feet. Branches struck her face and arms as clinging nettles pulled at the fabric of her blouse and skirt, but still she kept going, her legs pumping furiously, desperate to get away from what was surely right behind her, breathing down her neck.
Ducking beneath a low-hanging branch, Christina bumped it, sending a cascade of water plunging down onto her head; she was so panicked that she ignored it, desperate to keep running. Her breath was ragged, her vision blurry with rainwater, and her arm ached from a long, thin cut sliced by a thorn, but nothing mattered except getting away as fast as she could.
BOOM! The storm continued relentlessly to pound the forest.
“Charlotte! Where are you? Charlotte?”
On and on Christina ran, never slowing, never looking back, just running, running. She had never been as resourceful or levelheaded as Charlotte, never calm in a crisis; there was no way to keep Christina’s emotions from running out of control. Thoughts rushed through her as fast as the trees she dashed past: horror at what was the source of the sounds that were closing quickly behind her; worry that she wasn’t going in the right direction but running away from the safety she so desperately sought; the image of her mother, pacing before the window, wondering why her daughters weren’t home…
Just as Christina was about to jump over a rotting tree stump, her feet suddenly flew out from under her and she crashed down onto the muddy ground. She fell hard, sliding on her front, the muck coating her clothes and face.
“Ooofff!” she gasped as the air was driven from her chest.
Desperately, she struggled to get back to her feet. Under the relentless driving rain, her hands grabbed fistfuls of the wet earth. Over and over she tried to gain purchase as her feet pushed, then slid, then pushed again before falling. No matter what, she refused to look back, to have to watch as what she had been running from finally caught up to her.
I won’t let him catch me! I won’t! I won’t!
It was then, just as Christina was about to scream, that she heard a dog bark. The sound was close, cutting through the raging storm, and getting closer.
Jasper! And wherever he was, her sister was surely nearby.
Before Christina could call out either of their names, the bush beside her rustled and parted, revealing her sister. Soaking wet from the storm, Charlotte Tucker’s blond curls cascaded down the front of her once-white blouse, now caked with streaks of dark mud. Her hands and arms were scratched and dirty, but from the broad smile on her face it was obvious that she didn’t care in the slightest. Right behind her came Jasper, his tan coat wet and matted, his tongue lolling sideways out of his mouth. Panting without pause, he scurried over to where Christina lay and nuzzled his nose into the crook of her shoulder.
Even with the comfort of having been found, the fear did not leave Christina easily; she looked back over her shoulder to where she believed her pursuer to be, but there was no one there.
“Where in the world have you been?” Charlotte frowned, kneeling down beside her younger sister, the hem of her skirt flopping into the mud. “Jasper and I have been looking everywhere for you. It wasn’t until Jasper heard you running around, crashing through the brush, that we knew where you were.”
Jasper barked as if in agreement.
“I sto-stopped to tie…tie my shoe and you-you were gone!” Christina cried, struggling to contain the tremor in her voice. “You know how I ha-hate bein’ in the woods by myself!”
“I didn’t leave you—”
“Yes, you did!” Christina insisted.
BOOM! More lightning and thunder.
“What are you getting so worked up about? We found you, didn’t we? Nothing bad has happened to you, so stop your bellyaching.”
Deep down in her heart, Christina knew that Charlotte was right; she should have been relieved, happy to be back with her sister. From the moment Christina found herself alone, all she had wanted was to find Charlotte. Listening to how childish Charlotte made her fear sound, Christina almost felt worse than when she believed she was being chased through the woods. It was humiliating. Charlotte was only six years older, but she always seemed so confident, so fearless, that no matter what Christina did, she always felt like a baby. She could no longer contain her tears. She had been as brave as she could be, but no more.
“If this is the way you’re going to be,” Charlotte huffed, “Jasper and I’ll go on home without you,” and she turned to leave.
“No, Charlotte!” Christina cried. “Don’t leave me!”
Desperately, Christina tried to get to her feet but slipped back down to the muddy ground. The rain pelted her unmercifully. The thought of Charlotte leaving her behind was even more unbearable than the thought of being chased.
But just as her panic peaked, her sister stopped, turned, and came back to her. Gone was the impatience and disgust for her young sibling. In its place was a spark of compassion.
“Get up out of the mud,” Charlotte said as she helped Christina to her still-unsteady feet. “Our folks are used to me coming home looking like something the cat dragged in, but you being that way is going to turn their heads but good. More than likely, it’ll just get me into more trouble.”
“I’m sorry, Charlotte,” Christina sobbed. “I was…I was so scared!”
“Just stop right there,” Charlotte ordered, her voice sharp enough to bring a halt to her sister’s emotional outburst. “There’s something that you have to accept in life, Christina. No matter how much you want to believe otherwise, you will get lost again, you will be scared, you will be in danger, real or not, and I’ll not always be there to help you.”
“I know that…it’s just—”
“No, you don’t know. Everybody, no matter who they are, no matter how old they are, gets scared sometime.”
“But you never do!”
“Yes, I do,” Charlotte answered with a shake of her curls and a knowing smile. “But when it happens to me, I don’t panic. I don’t invent things that go bump in the night. I keep my head and use it. When I do that, things have a way of working out.”
“But I didn’t invent anything!”
“You were running because you thought something was chasing you, right?”
Christina hesitated. “But…but there was!”
“Then where is it now?”
Confused, Christina looked around them; there was still no sign of whatever it was she believed had been chasing her. Even if it had been hiding, Jasper surely would have sensed it and growled. Maybe it had been her overactive imagination getting the better of her. Maybe she had been so frightened that she had created something out of thin air and she had run without really knowing the truth. When she looked back at Charlotte, she couldn’t think of anything to say.
“You’re going to have to learn not to turn tail and run away from what scares you,” Charlotte explained.
“I…I know,” Christina agreed. “But…but I’m still glad you found me.”
“Me too.” Her sister smiled as Jasper barked.
Oak, elm, and evergreen trees whizzed past the open window of the Ford coupe as it raced wildly down the backcountry road, slipping on the loose dirt and gravel. The road twisted and turned, rose and then fell, but the car hurtled on faster and faster. Occasionally, Christina Tucker glimpsed an old, weathered house or a leaning barn, but she hadn’t time to make out more than the color of paint before it was lost from sight.
She pressed her feet hard into the floorboard in a futile attempt to slow the car from the passenger’s seat, one hand clenched tightly to the door frame, the other pressed flat against the dash. She felt sick to her stomach, certain she was about to meet a fiery end.
“Lord have mercy!” she gasped through clenched teeth.
“If there was one thing that was a given in this world, it was that someday Hugh Simmons was going to burn his house to the ground.”
Dr. Samuel Barlow sat behind the Ford’s wheel completely at ease, driving with one hand draped over the steering wheel, the other in his lap, rising only to shift. Gears ground as they were shifted, arguing loudly before jarring into place, a loud, screeching process. The wind rushing in through the window tousled Barlow’s white, thinning hair. He talked with a slight accent unidentifiable to Christina, and when he wasn’t speaking he had a habit of chewing the inside of his cheek. He was an older man who looked his age: his shoulders slumped slightly beneath his worn, rumpled dark coat, and his belly protruded in an obvious paunch. His eyes appeared large, behind the thick lenses of his glasses, and his face was a bit jowly, not the features of a particularly pleasant man. Still, although Christina found it easy to ignore the doctor’s grumpiness, there was one thing about him that she simply could not ignore.
He was one heck of a poor driver.
“With the way Hugh always has one of those damn cigarettes clutched between his fingers,” Dr. Barlow growled, “you’d think the fool had eleven digits instead of ten! Only a matter of time before he fell asleep, passed out drunk most likely, and burned his place to the ground.”
While he spoke, the car drifted toward the shoulder, its wheels dipping over into the soft earth before he yanked them back to the center. Rocks pounded against the coupe’s undercarriage, a noise made worse by the sirens and clanging bells of the fire truck and sheriff’s cars racing down the road ahead of them. Christina fought the urge to cover her ears.
“Been out here so many times I could make the drive with my eyes closed.” Barlow chuckled.
Christina caught a frantic glimpse of herself in the coupe’s side mirror: wispy strands of her long, black hair swirled this way and that, dancing in front of her emerald green eyes, gliding over the bridge of her delicate nose, wrapping around her clenched jaw, before cascading across her white blouse. Beads of sweat flourished on her forehead. She didn’t like what she saw; she looked ashen.
With his foot firmly planted on the accelerator, Dr. Barlow suddenly rocketed toward the sheriff’s car directly in front of them with such speed that Christina was certain there would be a collision.
“Watch out for the—!” was all she had time to shout before fearfully closing her eyes, turning her head, and bracing herself for impact. Nothing happened. At the last possible moment, Barlow again swerved the car sharply, then braked so hard that the tires locked and skidded, shoving Christina’s stomach into her throat, before again barreling forward. Through it all, he continued to chatter.
“I remember one time down at Marla’s Diner,” Dr. Barlow kept on, completely oblivious to how he was terrifying his passenger. “Hugh must’ve dozed off for a second while he was having breakfast, ’cause all of a sudden he leaped up out of his chair, yelling loud enough to wake the dead. You’ve got to be one hell of an imbecile to drop enough cigarette ash in your lap to burn a hole clean through your britches!”
It was almost impossible for Christina to believe that this was her first day in Longstock. She hadn’t known what to expect on her arrival; on the train she had wondered if there would be a crowd, townspeople gathering to welcome her. She had not expected there to be a band or a parade as there had been when the men had returned from the war. But for there to be only Dr. Barlow, scuffing his shoes against the platform and doing nothing to stifle a yawn, was a bit disheartening.
Still, it hadn’t done much to dim her excitement. This was to be the beginning of her new life, leaving behind her family in Minnesota and striking out on her own. She had long wondered what it would be like to experience such a moment, and no amount of disappointment was going to stand in the way of enjoying its beginning.
But just as Dr. Barlow was about to show her where she would be staying, the sheriff skidded his car to a halt beside them, its siren wailing, and frantically related what had happened. After Christina and Dr. Barlow had hastily wedged her trunk into the rear of the coupe, they all set off like a shot. Falling in behind the fire truck and sheriff, she and Dr. Barlow began the frenzied race to Hugh Simmons’s home.
For as long as she could remember, all Christina had wanted was to help people. When her sister or friends skinned a knee or bloodied an arm or nose, she had faithfully tended to their wounds. She was fascinated by what it took to make a wrong thing right. Eventually, that interest had blossomed into much more. Encouraged by her parents and grandmother, Christina had enrolled at a small nursing college in St. Paul. Her greatest inspiration had been her sister. When Charlotte Tucker graduated from school, she had moved to Oklahoma to become a teacher. She fell in love, got married, and began raising a family. Christina had worked hard, earned good grades, and thought her life would follow a similar trajectory.
But then the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and her life, along with that of every other American citizen, had been changed forever. Instead of taking a position in a small town in the Midwest as she had long hoped, Christina found herself stationed at Fort Winger in Michigan. As a new member of the Army Nurse Corps, she was responsible for tending to soldiers sent home from the front lines with debilitating injuries. Every day, men arrived with missing limbs, some swathed head to toe in bandages, others burned nearly beyond recognition, all often on the brink of death or desolation. They came from every branch of the service, from all over the country, with backgrounds and accents unlike any she had met before. She cared for them as best she could; with a warm smile, an ear well suited to listening, while doing her best to hide the tears she could never completely seem to banish.
Years passed and the war raged on. When soldiers she knew were sent off to fight on the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific, men like Charlotte’s husband, Owen, Christina feverishly prayed that they would not end up in her hospital; every time new soldiers arrived, she fought against the urge to search each of their faces, fearful she would see one who was familiar. Her prayers had been answered. However, she still saw more than her share of men whose lives were shattered, where rebuilding what once was would be painstakingly difficult, if not impossible.
Even after Germany and Japan surrendered, Christina’s duty to those still leaving the battlefields showed no indication of stopping. Summer became fall, which then became winter, and still she worked with no end in sight.
But just as she began to wonder if things were ever going to change, salvation arrived in an unlikely form. One night during dinner, a fellow nurse read aloud a letter she had received from back home in Wisconsin; in it, among the usual recollections and gossip, was the offer of a nursing position. The girl to whom the offer had been made loudly declared she had no intention of returning to the life she had previously led; she wanted to find a job in New York City. Christina then surprised even herself by asking if she might inquire about the offer. A couple of letters and a lengthy phone call later, the job was hers.
In the days and weeks after, she’d been so excited she could barely sleep. She would have a chance to use what she had learned, in a happier place, not one filled with the results of the horrors of war. She took great pride in the comfort she had given to soldiers, but now she wanted to soothe children and care for the elderly. She wanted to help bring babies into the world, just as her grandmother and mother, midwives both, had done. She wanted to be a part of a community, to build a life that would take root. Longstock offered her just such an opportunity.
“…taking his life in his own hands, which is just plain foolish!”
“Who’s being foolish?” Christina asked, wondering if it could be possible that the doctor was talking about his own driving.
“Hugh is the fool, of course,” he snorted. “If he had listened to what I’ve been telling him, he wouldn’t be in the mess he’s in today, by God!”
Dr. Barlow drove the car hard up a steep incline that soon veered sharply to the left. Not once did he step off the gas pedal; the engine strained, pressing Christina against the passenger’s door. The coupe’s rear end began to fishtail, shooting bits of gravel off the road and down into the ditch. Every terrifying instant, Christina expected the car to follow, plummeting over the edge and becoming a fiery, twisted mass of charred metal, but somehow they shot down the other bend of the curve in one piece. Still, they managed to clip a mailbox with the front fender, sending the box and splintered remains of the post hurtling over their hood and scattering behind them in the road.
“Shouldn’t put the damn things so close to the road.” Dr. Barlow frowned.
“How much farther is it?” Christina asked, more out of a mounting concern for her own safety.
“Just a short ways,” Dr. Barlow answered. “Just up and down a few more hills and there it’ll be on the river’s side.”
Even before she could see the dark, billowing plume of smoke rising from the burning Simmons home, Christina could smell it: an acrid penetrating odor drifting on the spring breeze, strong enough to make her nose wrinkle. When the black spiraling smoke came into view, it looked angry.
“When we get there, grab my bag out of the back and follow close behind,” Dr. Barlow explained. “Only the Good Lord knows how bad a mess that buffoon has made of things, so I don’t know what I’ll need and I don’t want to be searching for my things or wondering where you might be.”
“Then we’ll get along just fine.”
Now if we can only make it there in one piece.
The Ford coupe bumped and thudded over every pothole in Hugh Simmons’s drive as it followed the fire truck and sheriff’s car toward the house. Frustrated, Dr. Barlow whipped the car down into the tall grass and weeds of the lawn; the motion turned Christina’s stomach while giving her a first glimpse of the fire’s devastation.
The two-story house couldn’t have been much to look at before the fire; items littered the yard and spilled over onto the drive. Christina spotted a cast-iron stove, an icebox missing two of its legs, a pair of sawhorses that had themselves been sawed in half, and an antique phonograph player, its megaphone in tatters, rotted completely through. Rusted, empty food cans, bound stacks of newspapers, and discarded clothing filled in every available space, it resembled a garbage dump. A mangy old dog sat at the edge of the disaster, idly scratching at its ear.
Looming over it all was the house. Tongues of hungry red, orange, and yellow flames licked up and over every surface. Black smoke billowed from every broken window and doorway, pushed through gaping holes in the ramshackle roof, and soared skyward. Beams cracked and glass popped. The inside was undoubtedly packed full of refuse, more fuel to stoke the fire’s insatiable hunger. Waves of intense heat washed over them, sucking the air from their lungs. Much of the house had already been consumed; it didn’t look like it would be much longer before the whole thing collapsed.
“It was only a matter of time ’fore this happened.” Dr. Barlow shook his head before setting the coupe’s hand brake. He groaned as he got out of the car, then began striding toward the house. Christina grabbed his medical bag and hurried to follow.
All around them, men rushed to fight the fire. Members of the volunteer fire department pumped furiously at the well, feverishly filling buckets and passing them forward to douse the flames. Others soaked blankets beneath the pump faucet before flinging them, again and again, at the smoldering grass and bushes. One man took an axe off the side of the fire truck, its sharp blade gleaming in the sunlight, and began chopping at tree limbs that hung close to the side of the house, to prevent the fire from spreading. Over all the turmoil, the sheriff’s voice could be heard, ordering the firefighters first one way and then another, all of them trying to do what they could so that the Simmonses didn’t suffer a complete loss.
The Simmons family wasn’t hard to find; Hugh, his wife, and their four children were sitting in the yard beside a gnarled elm tree in front of the house where a suspended tire twisted and turned in the scant breeze. They all appeared shocked and were streaked with soot and grime. One of the boys hacked with a persistent cough while the mother’s tears cleared trails down her dirty face. Amazingly, Hugh Simmons held a lit cigarette between trembling fingers. He puffed on it furiously.
“This isn’t the time for smoking,” Dr. Barlow admonished, plucking the cigarette from Hugh’s hand and grinding it out beneath his shoe.
Hugh gave no answer, staring silently into the fire and the rapidly diminishing sum of his life.
“We’re…we’re gonna lose everythin’, ain’t we?” his wife asked.
“Least you didn’t lose your life,” the doctor soothed.
Diligently, Dr. Barlow examined each member of the family for signs of injury. Hugh appeared to have suffered the worst of it; angry red burns ran up and down the lengths of his forearms and covered his hands; the first blisters had already appeared. Only small tufts of dark hair remained on his skin; the rest had been singed off; even his eyebrows and the hair at the crown of his head had vanished. Wrapping a cool, damp cloth around his head, the doctor carefully applied bandages to hold the cloth in place. Every time he asked for something, Christina gave it to him as quickly as she could. He was thorough, exact, and precise, never wasting any unnecessary sentiment on his patients, but not heartless; he reminded Christina of the military doctors she had served beside, men who were never rattled, as they dealt with the most horrific of wounds. Even with Hugh, whom Dr. Barlow had reproached for being a fool with his cigarettes, he cared for the man with both compassion and concern, although he never answered the doctor’s questions. Through it all, Hugh didn’t so much as wince, his eyes fixed on the blaze.
The four children, three sandy-haired boys, each a year or so apart in age, and the youngest, a blond girl named Sally, had escaped the house soon after the fire had started. John, at ten the oldest boy, had followed his father back inside in a misguided attempt to fight the blaze and had suffered a touch of smoke inhalation for his troubles. Over and over he coughed up black phlegm, his eyes watering, his chest wheezing.
“Make sure he drinks plenty of water before you let him go running around too much,” Dr. Barlow instructed John’s mother. “He’s a strong boy. Give him a bit of time and he’ll be fine.”
“What about the rest of us?” his mother asked. “When are we gonna be all right?”
To both of her questions, Dr. Barlow had no answers.
While the struggle to save the Simmons home continued, Christina wandered over to where Sally stood beside the elm tree, her back turned to all of the commotion. Absently, the girl scuffed at the dirt. When she had been approached by Dr. Barlow, she’d allowed herself to be examined with as much indifference as her father, although she nodded and shook her head when spoken to. Christina had brought a cup of water from the well, wondering if the girl might be thirsty.
“Would you like something to drink, Sally?” she asked.
Sally again made no answer, but when she looked back over her shoulder Christina could see tiny tears running down the girl’s cheeks.
“What’s the matter?” Christina asked, alarmed. “Are you hurt?”
In answer, Sally turned to face her, shaking her head. In her hands, extended toward Christina, was a tattered doll. It looked to be much loved; it was hand-sewn, red yarn for hair, missing one button for an eye, with clothes that were ragged and worn. Christina knew that this was the one possession Sally had saved from the fire.
“No…nobody asked if Charlotte wa-wa-was hurt,” Sally sniffled.
“Your doll’s name is Charlotte?” Christina asked, kneeling in front of the girl and brushing a strand of loose hair from her teary eyes.
“Uh-huh.” Sally nodded.
“You sure picked a pretty name for her. Charlotte is my sister’s name.”
“Is…is my Charlotte burned?”
“Why don’t you let me take a look at her,” Christina said. Carefully, she took the doll out of the girl’s hands; for a second, Sally seemed reluctant to let her companion go, but she finally relented. Although stained with food, hardened with saliva, and probably never having gone through the wash, the doll showed no burn damage.
“She looks just fine, sweetheart.” Christina smiled.
“Are…are you sure?”
“Why don’t we put a bandage on her just to be safe?”
When Sally Simmons’s small face lit up brighter than the fire that was consuming her family’s home, Christina knew that this, caring for others in their time of need, was what she was truly meant to do.
From the coupe’s passenger seat, Christina watched the smoldering remains of the Simmons home as they burned away to nothing. Firemen continued to pour buckets of water onto the black, skeletal scraps, though there was clearly little left to save. The smoke still rising from the collapsed structure had changed from an angry black to a dishwater gray, lazily drifting up into the sky.
Dr. Barlow continued to speak with Hugh and his wife. While the parents remained traumatized by what had happened, the Simmons children had reverted to the lives they had known before the fire, playing on the tree swing, chasing one another around the yard, their laughter filling the air. From time to time, Hugh reached for his breast pocket and the cigarettes the doctor had already confiscated; every time he did, his wife smacked his hand.
Thank heaven no one had been killed.
Sweat ran down Christina’s neck and soaked her clothes. The early summer sun, deepening an orange brighter than the fire’s embers, had begun swinging down to the west. Night was still several hours away. The day’s temperature only now was starting to cool, but Christina was exhausted, bone weary as much from travel as the stress of nursing. Nevertheless, she knew her job had been done well.
“Will they be all right?” she asked when Dr. Barlow slid behind the wheel, tossing his medical bag onto the backseat.
“About as well as can be expected, I imagine, given all that’s happened. What’ll eventually get them back on their feet is the realization that no one was killed. You can replace clothes and books, take new pictures and gather new mementos, but when life is gone, it stays that way forever.”
“All I can think about is how much they’ve lost,” Christina said, taking a long last look at the Simmons family. “What they once took for granted is all gone and will take years to replace. How will they care for their children? Where will they spend the night?”
“The church will provide for them as best they can. After that, it’ll be on Hugh and Violet.”
“I just wish we could do more.”
“One of the hardest truths I’ve ever had to learn is that sometimes folks’ lives get ruined, whether on account of their own selves or because of others,” he explained while he turned the car’s ignition key and the coupe’s engine rumbled to life. “As a doctor, all I can do is treat their wounds as best I can. Any injuries to their spiritual selves or minds are best left in other hands.”
“I still worry that it’s not enough.”
“Don’t get me wrong,” he grumbled. “I didn’t say it sat well with me.”
Christina was pleasantly surprised to find Dr. Barlow’s driving better during the drive back into Longstock. Instead of his earlier reckless and terrifying madness, he now only occasionally drifted slightly over the centerline, and took curves at reasonable speeds.
The landscape that had been a blur a few hours earlier now readily revealed itself to Christina’s eyes. Purple and white bellflowers flourished in the setting sunlight, billowing into the underbrush at the edge of the tall trees. A sudden, large break in the tree line revealed a broad river of fast, blue water rushing over smooth rocks. Just off the gravel road, two young deer raised their heads from where they had been eating berries to watch the coupe as it passed. It was all so similar to Minnesota that it was easy to imagine she was home.
“So I reckon this is the moment you tell me the reason why,” Dr. Barlow said, interrupting her thoughts.
“Why…why what?” Christina asked, concerned that she had made some unknown mistake back at the Simmons home.
“Why you came to Longstock,” he explained.
“Oh, well,” Christina began, relieved, “there was a nurse back in Michigan who—”
“No, no, no, that’s not what I’m talking about. I already know those particulars,” he cut her off. “I may be getting on up there in years, but I’m not so far gone I can’t recall letters and conversations from a few months back. What I’m asking is why you chose to become a nurse.”
“Because it seemed natural for me to help people who needed it,” she answered truthfully.
“There are lots of ways to do that.” Dr. Barlow shrugged. “Like becoming a teacher or working through a church. That’s providing for those in need. There are some folks who’d argue that standing behind the counter of a diner is the same, if those they’re serving are hungry enough. So how is being a nurse better?”
“I’m not saying that it’s better,” Christina explained, “just different. When people are sick, injured, or suffering a pain they cannot bear, that’s when they need someone who is trained to care for them. Being a nurse is the greatest career I could ever ask for.” Catching herself, she added, “I suppose that sounds selfish.”
“Not to these ears,” he answered with a snort. “But if what satisfies you most is caring for those in need, medically speaking, why did you leave the Army? The way wars are always coming and going, there never will be a shortage of soldiers requiring care.”
“That’s why I left. Seeing all that carnage became too much to bear. Spending every day, without end, caring for men whose lives I know would never be the same became a constant that I couldn’t ever completely let go. It was overwhelming and somehow futile. I know what I was doing was important, that I was serving my country, but…,” she faltered, remembering the difficult choice she had made to leave the Army Nurse Corps and return to chasing the dream of a life she had temporarily left behind. “But when I knew that I could no longer stay, it didn’t mean that I wanted to stop being a nurse, only that I needed to do it somewhere else. Explaining it like this, I still wonder if I…”
“Made the right choice?” Dr. Barlow finished.
“You did. If there’s anyone who knows, it’s me.”
“What do you mean?”
“I understand your troubles because of the fact that, a long time ago, I was just where you are now,” he explained. “There was a time when I had to make the same choice you did.”
“You were in the Army?”
He nodded. “When I first got out of medical school, way back in ’17, it was about the time the United States finally decided to get involved in the Great War. Everyone was so happy about it, all the parades and such, well, I got wrapped up along with the rest, and before I knew it I was on a steamer headed for France. I spent the next year up to my elbows in wrecked bodies and blood. I saw more devastation in that year than I reckon the Good Lord would’ve wanted me to see in my lifetime. I never could’ve imagined it. Still, like you, I knew I provided comfort and care, best I could. But when the time came to walk away, for me it wasn’t much of a choice to make.”
“You served in France?”
“Somme River valley…some of the worst fighting of the lot.”
“My father fought there,” Christina said grimly. “He was badly burned by a shell that exploded close to him and had to spend months in a hospital. He bears the scars to this day. Who knows…you might have cared for him.”
“I just might’ve. Seems like thousands of faces lay there beneath me on blood-soaked beds and tables. For a long while, after I’d come back home to Longstock, whenever I’d close my eyes to sleep, some of those boys would visit me. Chased me toward the bottle more than once, but it got easier to bear, day by day, till they were finally gone, back in the past where they belong and are resting in their graves.”
“I’ll never know how my father was able to go on.” In Christina’s view, Mason Tucker had succeeded in leaving his past behind to build a new, better life in the war’s aftermath; she could only hope that every wounded soldier could do the same, though she knew it was wishful thinking.
“Seems like the battlefields of France have a way of ruining men, not just in my and your father’s war, but in this last one, too,” Dr. Barlow said. “The same thing happened to me—,” he began, but stopped, suddenly.
“What did you say?”
The doctor’s jaw flexed, his eyes blinking behind his glasses, before he answered, “Nothing…nothing at all. Now let’s see about introducing you to your new home.”
Longstock was visible to Christina from far to the north of the town; as the coupe sped down a decline, the thick canopy of elm trees parted and the valley below revealed itself. Houses were clustered around a curve in the Carville River, spreading outward for a bit until only a building or two dotted the few fields that led up to the woods. It looked quiet and quaint; except for the faint tendrils of wood smoke that rose from the occasional roof, it looked to Christina as if the town were sleeping.
“It’s somethin’ to look at from here, isn’t it?” Dr. Barlow remarked.
“It certainly is.”
“Just wait till you see it up close. It’s not much in size, but it was the right place for me to put down my surgical bag and hang out a sign.”
“I liked what I saw from the station.” She smiled.
“The way we had to hurry out of town, you couldn’t have seen much. Let’s go down and give you a proper introduction.”
As quickly as Longstock had appeared, it vanished, swallowed up by the woods. Having talked up the town, Dr. Barlow eased up on the accelerator, dropping the car to a lower speed. Winding steadily back and forth, the road dropped gradually before finally settling to run along the Carville River’s banks.
As they approached town, Christina took a closer look at the fields outside of Longstock. Row after row of trees, all equally spaced from one another, dotted the land. Regimented like soldiers, they marched across flat ground, descended into shallow depressions, and rose up small hills. Some were large, with thick trunks, while others were little more than saplings, their small size supported by boards driven into the ground and tied straight with string. From each of the trees’ branches hung apples, thousands of the fruit, meager for such an early time of season, their skins a soft shade of red.
“Look at all the trees!” she exclaimed.
“Tending to orchards is how most people in this area make a living,” Dr. Barlow explained. “The land’s too hilly and the soil too rocky to persuade another crop to sprout, and it’s been more than twenty years since the last sawmill closed up and moved to more profitable grounds. Because of all that and the desire to make ends meet, the first apple tree was planted. Back then, no one knew they’d be so darn delicious. Just wait until you taste one. Come harvesttime, with practically everyone in town working in the orchards, there’ll be more cider and apple pies than you could shake a stick at.”
Between the rows of trees, Christina saw men walking back and forth, staring up into the trees’ branches, pointing, and taking notes. Others pruned back wayward branches using long-bladed saws attached to long poles, while their companions picked up the refuse and tossed it in the back of a large truck. The whole operation seemed well practiced.
“Longstock is more than it looks at first glance,” Dr. Barlow remarked. “Give it time and this town might become a place you won’t ever want to leave; that’s how it was with me.”
“This was where you grew up?” Christina asked.
“All my life, until I went off to medical school.” He smiled. “Before the war, I spent all of my time dreaming about getting away, about going to a big city full of skyscrapers and people packed together shoulder-to-shoulder. But after the fighting ended, after seeing nothing but death and destruction, the only thing I wanted was to get back to what I knew, back to a way of life that was simple and innocent, even if I no longer was.”
“And you haven’t regretted your decision?”
“Not a day, well, maybe once or twice over the years.” Dr. Barlow chuckled. “But there’s life and culture here, the sort you might not expect. Even in a town small as Longstock, people know about theater, music, politics, and there’s even a passing knowledge of the game of baseball, though no one has a better grasp than myself, that’s for certain.”
“I’ve never liked it much myself.” Christina frowned.
“And I guarantee you are a lesser person for it. Wait until I tell you about the time I got to meet Babe Ruth!”
Longstock’s main street was nearly identical to the one on which Christina had grown up: dusty, dented cars and trucks parked outside of storefronts; a pair of older men sitting in front of the barbershop waiting their turn in the chair, gossiping beside the signature red, white, and blue pole. The small theater’s marquee advertised a new film starring John Wayne; a woman hurried from the grocer’s, a sack of items balanced precariously in her arms as she tried to corral the two young boys who darted back and forth just out of reach.
Even now, almost a year after the war’s end, American flags flew proudly from in front of nearly every door, crisp in the breeze, while bunting colored windowsills. A banner welcoming the return of Longstock’s soldiers still flapped, hung across the street between two buildings.
Cheerful, friendly voices called back and forth, hailing neighbors. Dr. Barlow joined in the greeting, acknowledging people he met with a wave, a nod, and a good word.
“People here in Longstock are mostly the same as a doctor would find anywhere else,” he explained. “Babies are born and old people die. They catch cold when winter arrives and break out in hives come spring. There are drunken brawls and accidents, fires and frostbite, drownings and car crashes, and there’ve even been a couple of murders in the twenty-five years I’ve been doctoring here. I’ve seen them at their worst and their best, changing from one day to the next, it seems, but all in all, it’s home.”
The doctor pulled the coupe into an empty space in front of the bakery. As she stepped from the car, Christina breathed in the sweet, savory aroma of fresh bread, cookies, and cakes that rolled out of the open front door; it made her stomach grumble loudly.
Wrestling her trunk free from the coupe’s rear, they each grabbed a handle, and Dr. Barlow led the way up a flight of steps attached to the side of the bakery building. At the top, a landing led to the rooms Christina would be renting. Stopping to wipe the sweat from his brow, the doctor pointed to a building visible farther up Main Street and immediately around the nearest corner.
“There is our clinic,” he wheezed. “Just…just a quick walk from here. I’ll show it to you in the morning.”
The apartment was small, but Christina hadn’t expected, or wanted, much. There was a front room furnished with a patched-up couch and a lone table, an attached kitchen with a stove and icebox, a tiny bathroom, and a door that led down a short hallway to a bedroom. The main window faced west and the rays of the setting sun streamed inside, brightening the walls a pleasant shade. The little flat might have needed a fresh coat of paint or a picture or two hanging from the walls, but the sight of it brought a smile to her face.
“Now I know it isn’t much,” the doctor began.
“It will do just fine,” she assured him.
Together, they hauled the trunk into the bedroom and dropped it on the floor beside the dresser with a loud thud; Christina frowned at the missing knobs on the drawers and deep gouges that chipped the paint on its surface, but quickly hid her unhappiness for fear that the doctor would see. After all, there was nothing wrong with it that she could not fix.
“One of the little-known perks of staying in this room is that you’ll never need an alarm clock,” Dr. Barlow said. “Every morning, the smell of whatever’s coming out fresh from the oven will get you out of bed and down the stairs faster than any rooster could ever dream of doing.”
The mention of food again set Christina’s stomach to rumbling; it had been a long time since she had finished her small sandwich on the train.
“I am quite hungry,” she said. “I suppose I should find something to eat.”
“Well, then you’re in luck,” he crowed. “I’m inviting you to share a home-cooked meal, and before you even try to say that I shouldn’t have gone to such trouble, I didn’t. Tonight we’re eating at my sister’s home. There’ll be roast chicken, mashed potatoes, more salads than will fit in your stomach, and of course an apple pie. So, if you’ve got any reservations about attending, you’ll have to take them up with her, but I warn you, she’s not above biting those who cross her.”
Much to her stomach’s joy, Christina readily accepted.
The sun was just setting over the edge of the western horizon, brilliant streams of burnt oranges and reds coloring the sky, when Dr. Barlow turned the coupe onto the street on which his sister, Clara Sutter, lived east of downtown. Elm trees had been planted between the street and sidewalk long ago, their lengthy branches spreading out over the street in a canopy that blocked out much of the sky. In the early evening hour, lightning bugs blinked in and out as the cicadas keened.
Clara Sutter’s home was a modest two-story that was identical to most all of the others on her street. It was a bungalow style that had been popular for years, with a brick exterior framed by shutters that had been painted a warm shade of yellow. A low-pitched, gabled roof overhung a porch that ran the length of the front of the house; it was held up by brick supports, buttressed at the top by ornate, decorative braces. Big windows looked out at the street and a manicured walk led up to the front door.
“Just look at all of the beautiful flowers!” Christina exclaimed.
Bright red and pink blooms ran the length of the walk up to the porch and filled the stone planter boxes on both the façade and stairs. Potted ferns stood at either side of the bottom of the stairs, silent sentinels watching all comings and goings. Meticulously placed bushes sprouted beneath the side windows, all of the red, pink, and white flowers spread full, their petals soaking up the last of the sunlight.
“My sister started growing flowers just as her sons were shipped off to the war,” Dr. Barlow explained. “Every day she could, she would tend to them, feed and fertilize them, dote over them like her life depended on it. It was her coping mechanism, the only way she could find to get herself through another day of worrying about what could happen to her boys.”
“Did anything happen to them?”
“Now that…,” he muttered, “is one…difficult question to answer…”
Through the coupe’s open windows, the piercing, rhythmic sound of metal banging against metal reached their ears. At the other end of the drive, a light shone through the windows of the detached garage. Over and over, the steady noise was carried over the evening air. When it was suddenly interrupted, a man’s voice barked a harsh obscenity before the sound again resumed.
“That’ll be my nephew, Tyler, working on his car,” Dr. Barlow said with a weary shake of his head. “I just can’t ever seem to get that boy’s head out from under the hood of a car. Clara’s afraid he’s starting to like engines more than people.”
Another, more colorful display of cursing came from the garage, as if in reply.
Just as Christina was shutting the car door behind her, footsteps sounded down the walk and she turned to find Clara Sutter hurrying toward them. Though much younger than her brother, she still shared a close resemblance; there were the same eyes and droopy face, but where Samuel Barlow’s mood was sometimes sour, Clara’s was as sunny as early morning. But as she wiped her hands on her flower print apron, Christina could see that, just behind Clara’s warm exterior, there was a look of fatigue in her eyes and a tiredness around her edges.
“Oh, my dear, my dear!” Clara exclaimed, beaming broadly. “It’s so very nice to meet you. Welcome to Longstock!”
“It’s my pleasure,” Christina answered, suddenly embarrassed by her lack of a bath and that she was still wearing dirty clothes; she wondered if she was as disheveled to look at as she felt. “I’m sorry that I’m not more presentable.”
“Nonsense,” Clara replied. “Just wait until you see the shape Tyler will arrive in. You’ll look like a princess in comparison. Now, I’m just certain that after a long day cooped up on a train, then being dragged about by my brother, you must be starving!”
“Tending to people in need isn’t the same as being dragged around,” the doctor disagreed.
“Hush now, Samuel,” she chided him. “The way you drive, it’s something of a miracle that she’s made it this far in one piece!”
“You talk as if your driving is any better!”
“Well, at least I have the good sense to know my limitations. Only the blindest of men go about in the darkness claiming that they can still see.” Taking Christina gently by the arm, Clara asked, “Are you ready to eat?”
Without warning, Christina’s stomach growled loudly. Embarrassed, she quickly said, “I hadn’t realized just how hungry I was until we went to the apartment where I’ll be staying. The smells from the bakery were almost more than I could bear.”
“Then you’ve certainly come to the right place. The roast chicken will be ready to come out of the oven any minute. Please, come.”
“Making fun of my driving…well, I never…,” the doctor grumbled as they headed up the walk.
The inside of Clara Sutter’s home was as attractive as the outside. The furniture wasn’t showy but well lived-in and comfortable: a painting of a boat sailing across choppy waters caught the last sun through an open window; a vase of cut flowers added a splash of color; and a row of bookcases, filled with ornate volumes, lined one wall. The smell of cooking food wafted through the house. But what caught Christina’s attention was the music. A record slowly turned on a player almost identical to the one lying discarded in the Simmons drive, needle dancing along its grooves, filling the room with classical music.
“You have such a beautiful home,” she said.
“Thank you.” Clara saw that her guest was especially interested in the phonograph. “Do you like music?”
“Very much. I grew up listening to my grandmother and mother playing the piano.”
“I’ve found that listening to Brahms or Mozart as I work is the easiest way to make an unpleasant task go faster,” Clara explained. “When I’m gardening, I especially like to entertain myself with a record, although once in a while I’ve had a neighbor ask if I might turn it down a bit.” She laughed.
The dining room, just off the kitchen, was prepared for their meal; the table was covered in a pristine cloth, white china plates were framed by sparkling silverware, and goblets were filled with water. Unlit candles were set out between a bowl heaped high with mashed potatoes and a tray covered in steaming grilled vegetables. Five place settings had been prepared, each chair slid back for its occupant.
“I see you’re still hoping that Holden will join us,” Dr. Barlow said to his sister.
Clara looked nervously at their guest. “I told him that we were having someone over for dinner and that I expected him to join us.”
“You know that’ll get his dander up. He’ll not come down—”
“I know perfectly well what works and what does not work with my own son,” Clara snapped, a sudden fiery look filling her eyes. “Just because you’re the doctor in this family does not mean that I have to follow every bit of advice you so freely give. What Holden needs is the reminder that he’s still welcome to join us.”
“All I’m saying is—”
“Just hold your tongue.” She glared. “I’ve already asked him, so there’s no point in arguing it further.”
Dr. Barlow looked as if he wanted to say more, but he glanced up to see Christina regarding them both uncomfortably, her eyes wide with surprise, and held his tongue.
An awkward silence filled the room. “I’m sorry, Christina,” Clara finally said, her smile returning so easily that it looked practiced. “Holden, my oldest son, has a…it’s just that he feels…well, instead of struggling to explain it to you, when he comes down and joins us for the meal I’m sure that you will understand.”
“Well, I…,” Christina began, uncertain as to how to reply, but neither of them seemed to require an answer.
“Samuel,” Clara said, turning her attention to other matters. “Why don’t you call Tyler to the table and I’ll fetch the chicken from the oven. In the meantime, Christina, make yourself at home.”
And with that, they both left.
When she was alone in the dining room, Christina’s sense of discomfort did not subside. She didn’t know what Clara and Dr. Barlow were talking about, but the argument was one they seemed well accustomed to hashing out. Whatever problems Holden Sutter was facing, there had been two competing ideas for how to handle them. Christina hoped that, if Clara’s son did join them, there would be no further confrontation.
Still, part of her wondered what had happened to Holden Sutter. That no one was willing to say it aloud unnerved her.
In the kitchen, she heard the sounds of the oven door being swung open and a heavy pan being set on a countertop.
“Tyler!” Dr. Barlow shouted out the kitchen window. “Get out from under that hood and come in here! It’s time to eat!”
“Yeah, yeah!” a voice shouted in answer.
“The car will still be there when you’ve finished! You’re not going to want to wait untill the chicken gets cold!”
“Hold your horses!”
“Don’t make me come out there!”
“It might be the only way you’ll get him in here,” Clara muttered.
Eager to avoid more bickering, Christina retreated farther into the living room, where she allowed her attention to be drawn to the top of a bureau. There she saw a photograph in a simple frame, which she picked up for a closer look; in the picture, two young boys stood directly in front of a man and woman, the latter of whom was easily recognizable as Clara Sutter. Squinting closer, Christina saw that it had been taken right in front of the house. From what she had heard, it was easy to assume that the two boys were Tyler and Holden, but she couldn’t know for certain.
Suddenly, the back door in the kitchen slammed shut, startling her. She set the picture back down on the bureau in a clatter, nearly dropping it.
“You’re lucky you came when you did, because I was about to come out there and drag you in,” Dr. Barlow said.
“Quit lying,” a man’s voice joked loudly. “The way you love Mom’s chicken, it would’ve been in your best interest to leave me out there until you helped yourself.”
Christina stepped into the middle of the living room, giving her a slightly less obscured view into the kitchen. A man had joined Clara and Dr. Barlow, but the door frame prevented her from seeing him clearly. He was dressed simply; a grey work shirt was tucked haphazardly into brown work pants, all of his clothing smudged. She wanted to see more, but she couldn’t bring herself to step out and be noticed.
“Go get cleaned up, Tyler,” Clara scolded. “Being covered in grease stains is no way to meet our guest. You’ll not make a good impression that way.”
“Oh, that’s right! I forgot we were having company!” Tyler complained. “Damn!”
“You just watch your mouth, young man!” his mother cried. “I will not tolerate that type of language under my roof! If your father were still with us, he wouldn’t—”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah! All the nagging makes me wonder why I ever come out of the garage! Hell, she’s probably from some backwater where dirt streaks are considered attractive! I bet she—”
As he talked, Tyler Sutter continued to move backward until, out of the corner of his eye, he got his first look at Christina Tucker.
As she sat down at the dinner table, there was much for Christina to enjoy: Clara Sutter’s cooking was excellent, particularly her roast chicken, which practically fell from the bone. Dr. Barlow regaled them with funny anecdotes from his thirty years of medicine, laughing so hard that tears formed in his eyes; and the classical music had been replaced by a swinging big band, the sounds of trumpets and clarinets mixing with the clinking of silverware, the heaping of plates, and the filling of glasses.
But even as she helped herself to another serving of green beans, Christina was acutely aware of the awkwardness that had crept in at the edges of the room. Holden Sutter hadn’t joined them, his empty chair sitting opposite his uncle’s, his plate and utensils unused. While his absence was never acknowledged, Clara’s gaze occasionally wandered over to the stairs, as if she expected him to appear at any minute. No verbal fireworks, though; this time, all held their tongues, at least so far.
And then there was Tyler Sutter.
Even though he now knew that Christina had heard every rude, despicable word he’d said in the kitchen, he showed no sign of embarrassment. Protesting every inch of the way, he had finally agreed to his mother’s demand that he change into something more presentable, trading his dirty shirt for a white one; even now, sitting directly across from her, he fumbled at his collar, pulling it out and away from his skin. He rarely added anything to the conversation other than a snide comment or disdainful laugh. But through it all, Christina found it hard not to look at him.
Tyler Sutter was the sort of man whose appearance drew attention; he had a strong, firm jaw framing expressive features, particularly his eyes, the clear blue of a fresh April morning. His blond hair was cut short. Even in uncomfortable clothes, his broad shoulders and muscular arms were evident, straining against the fabric of his shirt. He had a habit of pursing his lips together, as if he was thinking over something important, which narrowed his gaze and made him look slightly mischievous, even dangerous.
The impression Tyler gave was one of detachment, as if he wanted to be anywhere other than the dinner table, probably back in his beloved garage, but through all of his posturing Christina noticed that his eyes remained alert, darting glances in her direction. She couldn’t say much about his manners, but he was a handsome man.
“…with three pigs underneath the trough!”
“No matter how many times you tell that story, Samuel,” Clara gushed, “it still never fails to make me laugh!”
“Yeah,” Tyler added sarcastically. “It’s hilarious…”
Clara did her best to ignore her son. “So tell me, Christina, my dear.” She smiled. “What do you think of Longstock so far?”
“I haven’t had a chance to see much of it,” she answered. “But what I’ve seen is certainly very nice. It reminds me of Carlson, the town I grew up in back in Minnesota.”
“So it’s boring there, too, huh?” Tyler smirked, his eyes devilish.
“Tyler!” his mother admonished.
“You look like you’re about the same age as I am,” he said, leaning his elbows on the table and fixing his stare on Christina, all the while ignoring the glares he was getting from his relatives. She felt a bit uneasy having him look at her in such a way. “With the war and all, I’d expect that to mean your nursing probably took you out of state, if not out of the country.”
“I was in Michigan.”
Excerpted from Come a Little Closer by Garlock, Dorothy Copyright © 2012 by Garlock, Dorothy. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted July 27, 2013
Posted March 4, 2012
Reviewed by Janet J for Readers Favorite
It is 1946 and Christina Tucker is ready for a new start in life. A nurse who has cared for injured WW11 soldiers, she moves to Longstock, Wisconsin, to work for Dr. Samuel Barlow, a general practitioner. Christina is soon smitten with Dr. Barlow's nephew, Tyler Sutter, and drawn to Tyler’s brother Holden, who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder. She discovers that Dr. Barlow is addicted to morphine, which he takes to ward off nightmares from his service in the Great War (World War 1). Christina becomes the unknowing target of Luther, an alcoholic who blames Dr. Barlow for the death of his younger brother, Donny, though in truth Donny died from injuries sustained in an auto accident in which Luther is at fault. Vowing revenge, Luther thinks that by hurting Christina, he will hurt Barlow. Christina is also the target of Annette, who has loved Tyler since childhood and has fantasies that they will marry, though Tyler has never cared for her. Will she just get rid of Christina?
Meanwhile, Christina becomes the confidante of both Dr. Barlow and Holden, and encourages them to talk about their experiences in the war, experiences that traumatized them and keep them from moving forward in their lives. Christina is quick to judge and offers simplistic solutions for very complex problems, but she seems to get through to Dr. Barlowe and Holden, helping them deal with their unresolved war traumas, and she learns to appreciate and love Tyler, the multi-talented, complex and caring man that he is. Some events occur offstage, which is less effective than seeing the events firsthand through the eyes of the characters as they happened. The issue of soldiers returning home from war with untreated post-traumatic stress disorder is addressed (and is just as pertinent for today’s veterans; though treatment is more readily available now, many continue to suffer).
There are interesting well-drawn minor characters in this book including Callie, a wise and nurturing black woman who runs Dr. Barlow’s office, and Eunice, an elderly patient with whom Dr. Barlow has a longstanding love-hate relationship. When she dies, however, we learn that Dr. Barlow has lost a true friend and confidante. There is one descriptive sex scene which seems inconsistent with the overall tone of the book.
Though the various story lines climax with some violent confrontations, the epilogue gives closure to each character’s story in a satisfying conclusion. The audio narration by Susan Boyce is excellent, as she has a distinctive voice for each character.
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Posted October 5, 2011
In 1946 Twentyish Christina Tucker accepts a nursing position working for Dr. Samuel Barlow, the sole physician in Longstock, Wisconsin for the last three decades. Her prime patient is Dr. Barlow's nephew battle fatigue veteran Holden Sutter.
Holden's brother Tyler, who served in the Pacific Theater is filled with rage yet also shows his concern for his sibling. Christina cares for both brothers, but it is Tyler who she wants. However, neither she nor Tyler will risk hurting the emotionally scarred Holden. However, as the nurse and the two brothers work out their relationships, resident Morris Doyle blames Barlow for the death of his brother Jimmy and plans to enact vengeance against the loved ones of the revered doctor.
This delightful post WWII thriller stars a strong small town cast struggling to move passed the war. The tenuous relationships between Tyler, Holden and Christina make the tale fun to read while Dorothy Garlock paints a vivid the backdrop of 1946 Wisconsin. Although the Doyle subplot adds suspense, it detracts from the otherwise terrific Tucker tale (see Stay A Little Longer and Keep Little Secret).
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