When the Bommarito sisters, Isabelle and Janie, hear that their domineering mother is going in for open heart surgery, they must forget the trauma of their childhood and return to their riverside Oregon hometown, Trillium River. Taking care of their mother and their demented grandmother (who believes she's Amelia Earhart) and watching after their mentally handicapped brother, Henry (possessed of an almost saintly, unconditional love for people), the independent sisters try to find a place in the world they've left behind. Lamb (The Last Time I Was Me) delivers grace, humor and forgiveness along with a litany of family trauma, which might seem heavy-handed in lesser hands. Fortunately, this finely pitched family melodrama is balanced with enough gallows humor and idiosyncratic characters to make it positively irresistible. (Aug.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Henry's Sistersby Cathy Lamb
Ever since the Bommarito sisters were little girls, their mother, River, has written them a letter on pink paper when she has something especially important to impart. And this time, the message is urgent and impossible to ignore--River requires open-heart surgery, and Isabelle and her sisters are needed at home to run the family bakery and take care of their brother and ailing grandmother.
Isabelle has worked hard to leave Trillium River, Oregon, behind as she travels the globe taking award-winning photographs. It's not that Isabelle hates her family. On the contrary, she and her sisters Cecilia, an outspoken kindergarten teacher, and Janie, a bestselling author, share a deep, loving bond. And all of them adore their brother, Henry, whose disabilities haven't stopped him from helping out at the bakery and bringing good cheer to everyone in town.
But going home again has a way of forcing open the secrets and hurts that the Bommaritos would rather keep tightly closed. Working together to look after Henry and save their flagging bakery, Isabelle and her sisters begin to find answers to questions they never knew existed, unexpected ways to salve the wounds of their childhoods, and the courage to grasp surprising new chances at happiness. . .
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By CATHY LAMB
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2009 Cathy Lamb
All rights reserved.
I would have to light my bra on fire.
And my thong.
It is unfortunate that I feel compelled to do this, because I am particular about my bras and underwear. I spent most of my childhood in near poverty, wearing scraggly underwear and fraying bras held together with safety pins or paper clips, so now I insist on wearing only the truly elegant stuff.
"Burn, bra, burn," I whispered, as the golden lights of morning illuminated me to myself. "Burn, thong, burn."
I studied the man sprawled next to me under my white sheets and white comforter, amidst my white pillows. He was muscled, tanned, had a thick head of longish black hair, and needed a shave.
He had been quite kind.
I would use the lighter with the red handle!
I envisioned the flame crawling its way over each cup like a fire-serpent, crinkling my thong and turning the crotch black and crusty.
I stretched, pushed my skinny brown braids out of my face, fumbled under the bed, and found my bottle of Kahlúa.
I swigged a few swallows as rain splattered on the windows, then walked naked across the wood floor of my loft to peer out. The other boxy buildings and sleek skyscrapers here in downtown Portland were blurry, wet messes of steel and glass.
I have been told that the people in the corporate building across the way can see me when I open my window and lean out, and that this causes a tremendous ruckus when I'm nude, but I can't bring myself to give a rip. It's my window, my air, my insanity. My nudeness.
Besides, after that pink letter arrived yesterday, I needed to breathe. It made me think of my past, which I wanted to avoid, and it made me think of my future, which I also wanted to avoid.
I opened the window, leaned way out, and closed my eyes as the rain twisted through my braids, trickling down in tiny rivulets over the beads at the ends, then my shoulders and boobs.
"Naked I am," I informed myself. "Naked and partly semi-sane."
I did not want to do what that letter told me to do.
No, it was not possible.
I stretched my arms way out as if I were hugging the rain, the Kahlúa bottle dangling, and studied myself. I had an upright rack, a skinny waist, and a belly button ring. Drops teetered off my nipples one by one, pure and clear and cold. I said aloud, "I have cold nipples. Cold nips."
When I was drenched, I smiled and waved with both hands, hoping the busy buzzing boring worker bees in the office buildings were getting their kicks and jollies. They needed kicks and jollies.
"Your minds are dying! Your souls are decaying! Get out of there!" I brought the Kahlúa bottle to my mouth, then shouted, "Free yourself! Free yourself!"
Satisfied with this morning's creative rant, I padded to my kitchen and ran a hand across the black granite slab of my counter, then crawled on it and laid down flat like a naked human pancake, my body slick with rainwater, my feet drooping over the edge.
I stared at the pink letter propped up on the backsplash. I could smell her flowery, lemony perfume on it. It smelled like suffocation.
No screaming, I told myself. No screaming.
Suddenly I could feel Cecilia in my head. I closed my eyes. I felt abject despair. I felt fear. I felt bone-cracking exhaustion.
The phone rang, knocking the breath clean out of my lungs.
It was Cecilia. I knew it.
This type of thing happened between us so much we could be featured on some freak show about twins. A week ago I called her when I heard her crying in my brain. I couldn't even think she was so noisy. When I reached her, sure enough, she was hiding in a closet and bawling her eyes out. "Quiet down," I'd told her.
"Shut up, Isabelle," she'd sputtered. "Shut up."
We are fraternal twins and our mind-twisting psychic link started young. When we were three, Cecilia was attacked by a dog. He went straight for her throat. She was in our front yard, I was at the grocery store with Momma. At the exact same time she was bitten, I started shrieking and clutched my neck, which felt as if it had been stabbed. I fell to the ground and frantically kicked the air before I passed out. Momma later told me she thought the devil had attacked my very soul.
Another example: Two years ago, when I was working in some squalid village in India, teeming with the poorest of the poor, my stomach started to burn and swell. I had to ride back to the city in a cart with chickens. Cecilia needed an emergency appendectomy.
One more bizarre example: When I was photographing the American bombing of Baghdad, I dove behind a concrete barrier as bullets whizzed by. One grazed my leg. Cecilia's message on my cell phone was hysterical. She thought I'd died, because she couldn't move her leg.
It's odd. It's scary. It's the truth.
I covered my face with my hands. I did not answer the phone, waiting until the answering machine clicked on. I heard her voice — think drill sergeant meets Cruella De Vil.
"Pick up the phone, Isabelle."
I did not move.
"I know you're there," Cecilia/Cruella accused, angry already. Cecilia/Cruella is almost always angry. It started after that one terrible night with the cocked gun and the jungle visions when we were kids.
I tapped my forehead on the counter. "I'm not here," I muttered.
"And you're listening, aren't you?" I heard the usual impatience.
I breathed a hot, circular mist of steam onto the counter and shook my head. "No," I said. "No, I'm not listening."
"Hell, Isabelle, I know you're wigged out and upset and plotting a trip to an African village or some tribal island to get out of this, but it's not gonna work. Forget it. You hear me, damn it. Forget it."
I blew another steam circle. A raindrop plopped off my nose like a liquid diamond. "You swear too much, and I'm not upset ," I said, so quiet. "Why should I be upset?I will not do what she says. If I do I will be crushed in her presence and what is sane will suddenly seem insane. Mrs. Depression will come and rest in my head. I'll have none of that." I shivered at the thought.
"And you're scared. I can feel your fear," she accused. "Ya can't hide that."
"I don't do scared anymore," I said, still shivering. "I don't."
"We're going to talk about what happened to you, too, Isabelle. Don't think you can keep that a secret," she insisted, as if we were having a normal conversation. "Pick up the damn phone before I really get pissed."
I loved Cecilia. She did not deserve, no one deserved, what had come down the pike for her last year with that psycho-freak pig/husband of hers. My year had not been beautiful, either, but hers was worse.
"Isabelle!" Cecilia/Cruella shouted, waiting for me to pick up. "Fine, Isabelle. Fine . Buck up and call me when you get out of bed and the man's gone."
I flipped my head up. She knew! So often she knew about the men. She told me once, "Think of it this way: I don't get the fun of the sex you have, but I sometimes know it's happened by the vague smell of a cigarette."
"I'm already out of bed, so quit nagging," I muttered.
"Is," she whispered, the machine hardly picking up her voice. "Don't leave me alone here."
"Cecilia hardly ever whispers," I whispered to myself. "She is beyond desperate." I ignored the tidal wave of guilt.
"You have to help me. You have to help us," she said.
No, I don't have to help. I do not have to help you, or her.
"I can't do it without you. I will go right over the edge, like a fat rhino leaping over a cliff." She hung up.
I am going to live my own life as sanely as possible. My answer, then, has to be no. No, no, no, Cecilia.
I conked my head against the counter, then tilted the Kahlúa bottle sideways into my mouth. I rarely drink, but Kahlúa for breakfast is delicious. I licked a few droplets right off the counter when they splattered, my beads clicking on the granite.
The man in my bed stirred. I raised my head from the counter, mildly interested as to what he'd do next.
I couldn't remember his name. Did he have a name? I flipped over and stared at the open silver piping on my ceiling. Certainly he had a name. Because I couldn't remember it didn't mean he had no name.
The man turned over. Nice chest!
Surely this man's mother gave him a name.
For a wee flash of time, I let myself feel terrible. Cheap and dirty for yet another one-night stand.
"Ha," I declared. "Ha. This night must end right now."
I rolled off my counter, grabbed a pan from my cupboard, and filled it with cold water.
When it was filled to the brim, I balanced it on my head, still clutching the Kahlúa bottle with two fingers, and teetered like a graceless acrobat on a wire to the man with no known name. "Good-bye to the night, hello to the incineration of my blue-and-white lacy bra."
I ignored the three- by-four-foot framed black-and-white photographs I'd taken hanging on my wall. Everyone in them was traumatized and I didn't need to stare at their eyes today. They were people. They were kids. That bothered me. That's why I hung them in my loft. So they would never, ever stop bothering me.
That nagging question popped up: Would I ever shoot photos again after what happened?
The man in my bed had been impressed when he'd found out who I was. I am not impressed with myself. I was not impressed with him.
I put the pan down, tore my white fluffy comforter away from the man, then dumped the cold water over his head. It hit him square between the eyes and he shot out of bed like a bullet and landed on his feet within a millisecond, his fists up. Military training, I presumed.
"That was fast," I told him, dropping the pan to the floor and swilling another swig of Kahlúa.
"What the hell?" He was coughing and sputtering and completely confused. "What the hell?"
"I said, that was fast. Most men don't jump up as fast as you did. You're quick. Quick and agile."
He ran his hand over his face and swore. "What did you do that for? Are you insane?"
"One, yes, I am. Insane. I'm still sensitive about that particular issue so let's not discuss it, and two, I did it because I need you up and at 'em." I sat down in my curving, chrome chair and crossed my legs. The chrome chilled my butt. "You can go now."
I did not miss the hurt expression in his eyes, but I dismissed it as fast as I could.
"What do you mean, I can go?" he spat out, flicking water away from his hair.
"I mean, you can go. Out the door. We had one night. We don't need another one. We don't need to chitchat. Chitchat makes me nauseated. I can't stand superficiality. I'm done. Thanks for your time and efforts."
I watched his mouth drop open in shock. Nice lips!
"Out you go." See, this is the part of me that I despise. I truly do.
He shook his head, water flicking off like a sprinkler. "You've got to be kidding."
"Nope. No joke. None." I got up and went to the front door and opened it. "Good-bye. Tra la la, good-bye."
He stood, flabbergasted, naked and musclely and wet, then snatched up his shirt and yanked it over his head. "I thought ..." He ran a hand through his hair. "I like you ...we had fun ..."
"I don't do fun." No, I was past fun with men. That died when he couldn't control his nightmares followed by the rake and fertilizer incident.
"You don't do fun?"
He was befuddled, I knew that — completely befuddled. I love that word.
I felt a stab of guilt but squished it down as hard as I could so it could live with all my other guilt.
"Tootie scootie," I drawled at him. "Scoot scoot."
He wiped trickles of water off his face.
For long seconds, I didn't think he was going to do what I told him to do. He did not appear to be the type of man who took orders from others well. He appeared to be the type that gave the orders.
But not here.
I took another swig of Kahlúa. Yum. "Don't mess with me."
"I'm not going to mess with you. I thought I'd take you to breakfast —"
"No. Out." Out. Out of my life. Out of my head.
He shook his head in total exasperation, water dripping from his ears. "Fine. I'm outta here. Where are my pants?"
I nodded toward a crammed bookshelf where they'd been thrown. He yanked them on, his eyes searching my loft.
I nodded toward the wood table my friend Cassandra had carved. We had met in strange circumstances that I try not to dwell on. There were smiling mermaids all over it, swimming through an underwater garden. She'd painted it with bright, happy colors. Two weeks after that, she jumped off one of the tallest buildings in Portland after a luncheon in her honor. She'd left her entire estate to an after-school program for minority youth, which I administered.
Days later I received a letter in the mail from her. There were two words on the yellow sticky note inside the envelope. It said, "Rock on."
I watched him toss my pretty, blue and white lacy bra off his shoe and onto my red leather couch. It would soon be ashes, taken away by the wind off my balcony. Hey. Maybe my bra would land on a mermaid's head!
I opened the door wider.
He stared down at me, his eyes angry and ... something ... something else was lurking there. Probably hurt. Maybe humiliation.
I nodded. "Please don't take offense. It's not personal."
"Not personal?" He bellowed this. "Not personal? We made love last night, in your bed. That's not personal?"
"No, it's not. This is all I can do. One night."
"That's it? Ever?" He put his palms up. "You never have relationships with people more than one night?"
"No." I tilted my head. He was gorgeous. Cut the hair and you'd have a dad. But I would not be the mom, that was for sure. I closed my eyes against that old pain. "Never."
He gave up. "You take the cake." He turned to go, his shirt clinging to him.
Poor guy. He'd woken up with a swimming pool on his face. "I like cake. Chocolate truffle rum is the best, but I can whip up a mille-feuille with zabaglione and powdered sugar that will make your tongue melt. My momma made me work in the family bakery and darned if I didn't learn something, now get out."
I put a hand on his chest and pushed, leaning against the door when he left.
I would burn the bra and the thong and try to forget.
The rain would help me.
Rain always does.
It washes out the memories.
Until the sun comes out. Then you're back to square one and the memories come and get ya.
They come and get ya.
I grabbed my lighter with the red handle from the kitchen, lighter fluid, a water bottle, my lacy bra and thong, and opened the French doors to my balcony. The wind and rain hit like a mini-hurricane, my braids whipping around my cheeks.
One part of my balcony is covered, so it was still dry. I put the bra and thong in the usual corner on top of a few straggly, burned pieces of material from another forgettable night on a wooden plank and flicked the lighter on. The bra and thong smoked and blackened and wiggled and fizzled and flamed.
When they were cremated, I doused them with water from the water bottle. No sense burning down the apartment building. That would be bad.
I settled into a metal chair in the uncovered section of my balcony, the rain sluicing off my naked body, and gazed at the skyscrapers, wondering how many of those busy, brain-fried, robotic people were staring at me.
Working in a skyscraper was another way of dying early, my younger sister, Janie, would say. "It's like the elevators are taking you up to hell."
Right out of college she got a job as a copywriter for a big company on the twenty-ninth floor of a skyscraper in Los Angeles and lasted two months before her weasely, squirmy boss found the first chapter of her first thriller on her desk.
The murderer is a copywriter for a big company on the twenty-ninth floor of a skyscraper in Los Angeles. In the opening paragraphs she graphically describes murdering her supercilious, condescending, snobby boss who makes her feel about the size of a slug and how his body ends up in a trash compactor, his legs spread like a pickled chicken, one shoe off, one red high heel squished on the other foot. That was the murderer's calling card.
No one reports his extended absence, including his wife, because people hate him as they would hate a gang of worms in their coffee.
Janie was fired that day, even though she protested her innocence. That afternoon she sat down and wrote the rest of the story, nonstop, for three months. When she emerged from her apartment, she'd lost twenty pounds, was pale white, and muttering. At four months she had her first book contract. When the book was published, she sent it to her ex-boss. And wrote, "Thanks, dickhead! With love, Janie Bommarito," on the inside cover.
It became a best-seller.
Excerpted from Henry's Sisters by CATHY LAMB. Copyright © 2009 Cathy Lamb. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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.
Meet the Author
Cathy Lamb lives in Oregon. She is married with three children. She writes late at night when it's just her and the moon and a few shooting stars.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Cathy Lamb's characters are the most interesting, most fun, most creative I have ever read. I love her books. She makes me laugh, cry, weep with sobs and laugh until I wet my pants. What a great read.
Great lessons in this book, Henry, his ability to love, forgive, endure adversity and live each day as a new beginning with joy. He's the sisters' saving grace in this horribly dysfunctional family. In spite of the subject matter, the reader laughs, cries and cheers the strong wonderful characters on in the emotional highs and lows. Wonderful!
My mother gave me this book to read and I couldn't put it down. I loved the characters and found myself laughing, crying, and just genuinely enjoying it. I immediately ordered 2 more Cathy Lamb books.
I loved this book. It is the 3rd book I've read by Cathy Lamb and have enjoyed them all. This book starts out so crazy that about 2 chapters in I was thinking that it might be too crazy for even me, however I kept reading and was so happy I did. Circumstances were revealed that made the beginning more believable. I have shared this book with another friend and she felt the same way. I laughed alot - and cried alot. A really good read, but be ready for offbeat characters.
I woke my husband up one night because i was laughing so hard and he was concerned because he thought i was crying. The next night he woke up and thought i was laughing but i was bawling like a baby. This book is amazing and will wring every emotion out of you, so get ready for the ride!
This book starts as any other typical fiction but what happens next will keep you glued to every page. The characters grew and you couldn't wait to see what they would do or how they would react next. You then understood how the sister's became the adults they were and felt their pain of childhood. Then when they were coming together for their mother they hated and the brother they loved and what happened after that was wonderful. It made me laugh, it made me cry and the ending was beautiful. This book was christmas gift that I would normally not have purchased for my library, but am so glad it was given to me.
this book made me laugh out loud, cry, and I could not put it down. I couldnt wait to share it with someone else. had to go out and buy her other 2 books. Please hurry and write another cathy!!!!
Cathy Lamb is one of the most gifted writers. This book was laugh out loud funny and wipe your tears sad. She has mastered the art of "family dynamic" story telling. This was the first book of hers i read and have since read all her others. Her books share life problems and are well worth the investment of time and money.
This was my first time reading anything by cathy lamb. I have to say that the book was amazing. It tookme through such a range of emotions while staying true to the story. When i found myself crying in a doctor's waiting room and laughing out loud at work, i knew that i had to recommend this book to everyone !!!!!!! It is one of the best books i've ever read!
enjoyed the book a lot laughing and crying at different times
you will laugh and cry. fast paced....great read....i will read ms. lamb again and again....enjoy!
great book... absolutely loved it. laughed, cried, and wanted more!
Laughed out loud and cried like a baby. A must read for every bookclub. Julz
The twist on this book was quite a surprise. Def would recommend to anyone; totally suitable for male readers - not a gurly romance novel. D ~
From beginnng to end, Henry's Sisters, is a non-stop read. The story of the Bommarito clan, Henry's Sisters, shows the deep wounds of a splintered family and how time and tragedy can lead to healing. Following the lives of the three sisters and their develpomentally challenged brother pulled me in, making feel like I was a "fly on the wall" of the big Queen Anne House in Oregon. When their difficult mother, River, has to have major surgery, the sisters are forced to return home to care for their disabled brother and a grandmother suffering from dementia and who believes she is Amelia Earhart. The girls soon learn that the bakery run by River is nearly bankrupt, they put their lives on hold to do what they have always done in the face of adversity, Bake. By learning to embrace their quirks and understand the demons faced throughout their lives, the Bommarito sisters come full circle to become amazing characters. The book shows the deep scars left when a family unit is broken, the never-ending bonds of sisters, and the healing power of love and fogiveness.
We used this book for a recent book club choice. Our group realy liked the book as a whole and while parts of it made us mad, parts also made us laugh and cry. All in all, the book was a great book and the second we have read by this author, both of which we have enjoyed thoroughly and created great discussion for the club.
One minute you are laughing outloud the next you are sobbing! The characters are that..."characters"! Henry is all that you could hope to have in a sibling.
Absolutely LOVED this book! I think this one brought up alot of hard memories of my own childhood, so it was difficult at times to read. But I still adore Cathy Lamb & ALL her books
Great book, really enjoyed it
Found this author because of her awesome first name. This is one of my faves of her books. She is one of my favorite authors!