Read an Excerpt
By Maureen Child
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2003 Maureen Child
All rights reserved.
Carla Candellano was the only reason her mother wasn't the mother of the bride.
"You're not getting any younger, you know," Mama said from the far side of the kitchen.
"I'm twenty-eight, not exactly applying for Social Security yet."
"I had four children at twenty-eight."
"Tough delivery," Carla murmured. She should have known her mother's hawklike ears would catch it.
"So smart. Mrs. Funny."
"Mrs.?" Carla perked right up and grinned. "Is there a Mr. Funny?"
"There should be."
"Here we go," Carla said, and watched her mother as the inquisition began anew. Every week, it was the same thing. One thing you had to give the Candellanos: they never gave up.
"So why don't you have a nice man?"
"Maybe I'm not looking for one."
"You don't want a man?"
"It's not that," Carla said. "I'm just not interested right now."
"Oh, so tomorrow would be a better time?"
Tomorrow, next week, next year. Just not now. A girl had to be in the mood for romance and Carla so wasn't in the mood.
"Mama, let it go, okay?"
"Hmmph." Angela Candellano sniffed dramatically and slapped her dish towel across her left shoulder. "You're a beautiful girl, Carla. There's no reason for you to be alone." Her expression shifted, changed as something brand-new occurred to her. "Unless ... are you maybe looking for a nice woman?"
Carla gaped at her. She felt her mouth drop open and made a conscious effort to snap it shut. Never a dull moment around here, that's for sure.
"No, Mama, I'm not a lesbian." Carla lifted her gaze toward the ceiling and, when she got no sympathy from heaven, seriously considered banging her forehead on the kitchen table. But if she passed out, her mother would just lift her head and slide a plate of dinner under it, so what would be the point?
"Well," Mama said from the stove, "if you're sure."
"Trust me on this one." Granted, she was twenty-eight years old and there hadn't been a man in her life since God was a Boy. But celibate didn't mean gay.
"If you say so." Mama didn't sound convinced. "But I saw on Oprah how sometimes you don't realize these things until you're older, but then you see the signs were always there."
Signs? Mama wanted signs? How about signs of frustration? Signs of exasperation? Signs of incipient insanity? She should have thrown a brick through Mama's TV last week when she'd told Carla that according to the news, if you reached thirty and still weren't married, you might as well throw yourself in the river.
But then, her mother wouldn't stop until she had Carla married and pregnant. Good luck with that. Pickin's, as far as men went, were pretty slim in Chandler. Not that Carla was looking or anything. Nope. She had enough occupying her mind these days without trying to squeeze romance in. Besides, if Carla had a man, what would Mama complain about?
"You have got to stop watching Oprah."
Her mother gave her a look usually reserved for the kid who delivered pizza and always added his own tip into the price of the pie.
"It's not just Oprah. I read." Her mother opened the oven door, letting out a rush of hot air that carried the scent of the bubbling lasagna within. Which was, Carla reminded herself, the reason she was still sitting here, allowing herself to be tortured.
"Well, quit reading."
"This is how you talk to your mother?"
"You're trying to find out if I'm gay and I'm the rude one?"
"If your papa was still here" — she paused for a quick sign of the cross — "you wouldn't be talking to me like this."
If Papa was still here, Mama would be too busy hovering over him to spend so much time on her daughter's love life. Coward, Carla thought with another quick glance toward the still-silent heaven where her father, no doubt, was gleefully enjoying a little peace and quiet. Papa had spent most of his married life trying to sneak out and have a good time without Mama hunting him down and dragging him back. Two years ago, he'd finally managed to get where she couldn't reach him.
Of course, in doing that, he'd tossed his four children to the wolf — er ... Mama.
Carla reached for the stack of paper napkins, the good kind, with the fold, and absently shredded the top one. It wasn't that she didn't love Mama. But for God's sake. She was twenty-eight. She didn't need her mother sticking her long but loving nose into her nonexistent love life.
"You were born in a barn, maybe?" Mama asked as she walked over and picked up the napkins, moving them out of reach.
"Hospital," Carla said, still shredding. "You remember. You were there."
"Oh, so now you make jokes."
Laugh or cry, she thought but didn't say.
"So, if you're not gay, then you should know Frank asked about you again today."
"Frank? Oh God." Okay, cry. Maybe if she slapped her forehead against the table hard enough, she'd pass out and wouldn't have to hear about Frank, of the shiny suits and white belts, again.
Her mother snapped the oven door closed and whirled around on her so fast, it brought back a flash of childhood, when one of Angela Candellano's dark looks could give Carla nightmares for a week. Instinctively she inched back on the green Naugahyde bench seat. As she did, memories raced through her mind. Of all the years she'd shared this breakfast booth with her three older brothers. Of the times she'd been kicked under the table. Of the times they'd offered to beat up some boy who'd made her cry.
A world of love was centered in this kitchen. It was the room everyone eventually ended up in. They'd talked while doing dishes, fought while setting the table, and forged bonds that still held fast today. That was something to be said for Mama and Papa both. They'd built a family together.
Here. In this room, where her mother was about to murder her.
"What?" Mama flung the dish towel from her shoulder to the counter, planted both hands on hips that had gone wide years ago, and scowled. Those fierce brown eyes of hers danced with impatience and the toe of her shoe tapped out a rhythm against the green-flecked linoleum. "You're too good for Frank Pezzini?"
"Yes." Heck, if Frank Pezzini was her only option, she'd become a lesbian. Her mother had to figure that Carla was desperate for a man to even suggest good ol' Frank.
"He's a nice boy."
"He's got a good job."
"He works at his father's market," Carla pointed out, "and you're always complaining about his thumb being on the scale when he weighs the meat."
Facts rarely got in the way of Mama's arguments.
"He's got a nice house."
"Ha!" Carla scooted out of the breakfast booth and stomped across the kitchen, knowing her mother hated it when she stomped. Which was why she'd paid for those ill-fated ballet lessons for three interminable years. "He lives over his parents' garage."
Angela frowned. "So he has money to spend."
Carla snatched up a raw carrot off the butcher block table and took a bite. Crunching, she still managed to say, "Spend? The last time Frank Pezzini opened his wallet willingly, the leather crumbled."
"Half the people around here are Italian," Carla countered. Heck, at the beginning of the century, Northern California had been a mecca of sorts for Italian immigrants. They'd come for the fishing industry, the canning factories in Monterey, and the vineyards. They'd made their culture and their joy in life a part of the local landscape. And with the passing generations, they'd slipped into the mainstream of California life and become integrated threads in the state's tapestry.
Her mother threw her hands wide, then let them slap down against her thighs. "Spoiled, that's what you are."
The back door opened. "I've been saying that for years," her brother Nick said as he walked into the room. "But does anyone listen to me?"
"Wipe your feet."
He rolled his eyes at their mother's back but wiped his feet before coming into the spotless kitchen. Carla'd never been so glad to see him as she was at that moment. She needed somebody else to divert Mama's attention. And if that meant tossing Nick into the flames, so be it. What were brothers for, anyway?
"So who's she trying to set you up with this time?" he asked, grabbing Carla's carrot and munching it before she could protest.
"Ah. ..." He nodded. "Fabulous Frank. Jesus, Mama, is Frank's mother offering a kickback if you can find him a wife?"
"At least he has a steady job. Not like you. Running around in tight pants playing catch."
Nick actually winced and Carla chuckled, delighted that the harassment ball had been handed off to her brother.
"Football, Mama. I play football."
And, because he played it so well, he was Chandler's pride and joy. The star of the high school team, Nick had attracted media attention in college and was snapped up by the pros the minute he graduated — a graduation Mama and Papa had insisted on.
"Play." She sniffed in mock dismissal. But she didn't fool anyone. Mama loved to remind people when Nick was going to be on Monday Night Football. "A grown man plays for a living."
Nick scooped his much smaller mother off her feet and gave her a twirl or two around the kitchen. When he plopped her back down again, he gave her a smacking kiss and wiggled his eyebrows at her. "Admit it. You love me."
She smacked him with the dish towel, but she was smiling. "Where's Paul?"
"We're just twins, Mama. Not Siamese." He reached for a piece of sausage and had his hand slapped for his trouble. "I don't know where he is."
"Sunday dinner," Mama muttered. "One day a week is all I ask."
Carla choked on another carrot. One day a week. Mama would have them all still living at home if she could think of a way to handcuff them to the old Victorian. But she settled for Sunday dinner and it was a compulsory meal. No excuses accepted. If you were in a car accident, Mama expected you to heal and be hungry by Sunday night.
"What's all you ask?" The back door opened again and Tony, the oldest Candellano sibling, stepped through, a black-haired, brown-eyed toddler on his hip. His wife, Beth, right behind him, he handed his daughter off to Nick as he grabbed Mama in a quick, fierce hug.
"Let go; let go," she said, though she held on tightly and gave him an extra pat just for good measure. "I want to see my granddaughter." The baby grinned, drooled, and damn near leaped into her grandmother's arms. "Oh! She's changed so much."
Tony shook his head and grabbed a slice of fresh bread. "You just saw her two days ago."
"They change a lot at this age." Reaching out with one hand, Mama pulled Beth close for a kiss. "So, how's my Tony treating you?"
Beth's eyes narrowed on her husband, and when his jaw muscle twitched, Carla told herself this could be an interesting night. Which was good. Not that she wanted trouble in paradise, but if Mama's radar clicked onto Tony, then Carla was in the clear. At least for tonight.
"Mama was just telling me why Frank Pezzini is the right man for Carla," Nick tossed in, and Carla wondered if she could get away with murder. Probably not, she acknowledged, since Tony was standing right in front of her, still wearing his uniform. The downside to being related to the town sheriff.
"Oh, Mama, no," Beth said, and Carla wanted to kiss her for the support. "He's — for lack of a better word — icky."
"Summed up in one, Beth. Thank you."
She smiled, but it wasn't enough to erase the shadows in her eyes. A pang of sympathy darted through Carla and she made up her mind to get Beth alone soon for a little sister-to-sister chat.
"Frank Pezzini's not right for anybody," Paul said as he joined the weekly gathering. "Hell, even his mother keeps him in the garage."
"You're late," Mama said.
"I know." Paul checked his watch, shook his wrist for a minute, then held it to his ear. "I think it stopped again."
Big surprise. Something about his body chemistry killed every watch he'd ever owned. And yet Mr. Computer, the prototypical absentminded professor, always seemed to forget that little point. Despite being twins, Paul and Nick couldn't have been more different. Nick was always the athletic one and Paul the deep thinker. Of course, without his twin's help, Nick would probably still be sitting in Mr. Mondaca's biology class at Chandler High. And thanks to Nick's interference, Paul didn't spend all of his time at the computer lab.
"This is how you treat your mother?" Mama demanded, hands on hips. "No kiss? No hello?"
Paul neatly avoided his niece's grubby hands as he bent in for a kiss. "Hello, gorgeous. Now can we eat?"
While the rest of them got down to the business of setting the table and hauling serving dishes to the dining room, Carla glanced out the kitchen window and stared at a single spot of light in the darkness beyond. Lamplight. In the Garvey house.
"What's so fascinating?" Nick asked as he came up behind her.
"Looks like the summer renters are here."
He took a quick look, and as they watched, more lights clicked on in the cottage on the point. Every year it was the same. New people. New faces. Around for three months, then disappear the way they'd come. Which wasn't altogether a bad thing. Since the rest of the year Carla had all the peace and quiet she could ask for. Still, she hoped this year's batch of temporary locals would be better than the last ones. She really didn't need another summer of heavy metal music pounding down on her all day and all night.
Nick dropped one arm around her neck, rested his chin on top of her head. "Look on the bright side, little sister. Maybe there's some poor lonely single guy over there. Then Mama's radar will slide off of Frank and onto fresh meat."
"Great. Just what I need." She pulled away and turned her back on the Garvey house.
"Maybe it is."
"Oh, not you, too."
"Well, hell, Carla. If you're gonna live like a nun, you might as well sign up and wear the outfit."
"I don't live like a nun. It only looks that way to Hugh Hefner."
"Hey — can I help it if I'm irresistible to the opposite sex?"
"Guess not. That humility of yours snags 'em every time, right?"
"It's a curse," Nick said, smiling.
"Try dating a woman with a brain for a change — instead of your usual pom-pom shakers — see what happens."
"Nothing wrong with a good set of pom-poms."
"Fine. Right. I'm a rutting pig and you're a delicate flower."
"Exactly." She smiled, picked up the basket of fresh bread, and handed it to him. "Here. Take this in and make yourself useful."
He studied her for a long minute. Ever since she'd come back home she'd had shadows in her big brown eyes that worried him. But it had been two years. Just how long was she going to punish herself? And how could he help if there was no one to beat up on?
"You okay?" he asked suddenly, knowing she wouldn't thank him for butting in, but what was family for, anyway?
"You don't look it."
"You know what I mean. Carla —"
"Nick, I love you. But butt out."
"That's plain enough, I guess." He headed for the dining room door. "You coming?"
"In a minute." When he was gone, she slapped her hands on the cool tile countertop and felt the chill seep through her. He meant well. Heck, the whole family meant well. But this wasn't something that was going to be "cured." It was just something she had to live with. And that would be a heck of a lot easier to do if everyone would quit worrying about her. Shaking her head, she opened the fridge and picked up the pitcher of iced tea. Then half-turning, she paused for another look at the lamplit cottage in the darkness before joining the family.
"You'll like it here," Jackson Wyatt told his daughter as they walked through the small house. He hit every light switch as they passed, showing Reese each room and hoping for a response he knew darn well wouldn't come.
Disappointment roared to life inside him, but he fought it down. Couldn't expect miracles — though a part of him had been expecting just that. But no. Not after a year. When the change came, it wouldn't be in one magical moment. It would come in fits and starts. Tiny steps. That's the way his little girl would come back to him.
And she would come back. He refused to think otherwise.
Excerpted from Finding You by Maureen Child. Copyright © 2003 Maureen Child. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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.