House and Home

House and Home

4.5 24
by Kathleen McCleary
     
 

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The story of a woman who loves her house so much that she'll do just about anything to keep it. Ellen Flanagan has two precious girls to raise, a cozy neighborhood coffee shop to run, terrific friends, and a sexy husband. She adores her house, a yellow Cape Cod filled with quirky antiques, beloved nooks and dents, and a million memories. But now, at

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Overview

The story of a woman who loves her house so much that she'll do just about anything to keep it. Ellen Flanagan has two precious girls to raise, a cozy neighborhood coffee shop to run, terrific friends, and a sexy husband. She adores her house, a yellow Cape Cod filled with quirky antiques, beloved nooks and dents, and a million memories. But now, at forty-four, she's about to lose it all. After eighteen roller-coaster years of marriage, Ellen's husband, Sam—who's charismatic, spontaneous, and utterly irresponsible—has disappointed her in more ways than she can live with, and they're getting divorced. Her daughters are miserable about losing their daddy. Worst of all, the house that Ellen loves with all her heart must now be sold. Ellen's life is further complicated by a lovely and unexpected relationship with the husband of the shrewish, social-climbing woman who has purchased the house. Add to that the confusion over how she really feels about her almost-ex-husband, and you have the makings of a delicious novel about what matters most in the end. . . .

Set in the gorgeous surroundings of Portland, Oregon, Kathleen McCleary's funny, poignant, curl-up-and-read debut strikes a deep emotional chord and explores the very notion of what makes a house a home.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

After initiating a separation from her husband-whose repellently named invention, the splotch-catching "hot dog diaper," has bankrupted them-Ellen Flanagan, faced with supporting two young daughters, makes the levelheaded decision to sell the family home in the suburbs of Portland, Ore., to pay off debts and keep her business (a smalltown coffee shop) afloat. One daughter takes the change in stride, another plots to disrupt the sale, and Ellen soon finds herself struggling with her own deep feelings for the house. Obnoxious buyers make things worse, and lurking behind all her preparations to move is the possibility-alternately tempting and unsettling-of reconciling with husband Sam, who seems blindsided and bewildered. HGTV.com columnist McCleary's tale of real estate woe (plus a little entrepreneurship gone wrong) will resonate with unhappy homeowners, as will her portrait of a regular woman pushed to extremes trying to do the right thing for her family. (July)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781401341046
Publisher:
Hachette Books
Publication date:
07/07/2009
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
272
Product dimensions:
5.18(w) x 8.00(h) x (d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

House and Home


By Kathleen McCleary
HYPERION BOOKS
Copyright © 2008

Kathleen McCleary
All right reserved.


ISBN: 978-1-4013-4073-5



Chapter One The house was yellow, a clapboard Cape Cod with a white picket fence and a big bay window on one side, and Ellen loved it with all her heart. She loved the way the wind from the Gorge stirred the trees to constant motion outside the windows, the cozy are of the dormers in the girls' bedroom, the cherry red mantel with the cleanly carved dentil molding over the fireplace in the living room. She had conceived children in that house, suffered a miscarriage in that house, brought her babies home there, argued with her husband there, made love, rejoiced, despaired, sipped tea, and gossiped and sobbed and counseled and blessed her friends there, walked the halls with sick children there, and scrubbed the worn brick of the kitchen floor there at least a thousand times on her hands and knees. And it was because of all this history with the house, all the parts of her life unfolding there day after day for so many years, that Ellen decided to burn it down.

At first she thought she wouldn't have to. While she had known at every step that moving was a mistake, she could almost picture someone else in the house, perhaps a nice retired couple who would stay a few years before moving on, or a quiet bachelor who would love the garden and the big bedroom on the main floor. She was totally unprepared for Jordan, whose brisk efficiency and patronizing air of possession and pity just turned Ellen's stomach.

"I want to assure you that the house will be well-loved," Jordan told her repeatedly, after showing up unexpectedly at the back door one day, tape measure in hand. "I adore it and we have great plans for it."

Ellen was silent. She didn't want Jordan loving her house, any more than she would want Jordan loving her husband, even if he was her soon to be ex-husband. She didn't even want to meet Jordan, who had bought the house just weeks ago, with the stipulation that Ellen could rent it back until the end of May. Ellen didn't want to be able to picture the new family who would be living in her house, the other children who would make a clubhouse in the attic under the eaves and measure their growth against the doorjamb of the closet in the master bedroom. She had attended the closing last week by herself, signing the papers after Jordan and her husband had signed their part, signing away a whole life embodied by the little yellow house.

Ellen instantly mistrusted Jordan, quickly assessing her straight blond hair, cut in the usual suburban-mom bob, her small size (she stood barely five foot three, Ellen guessed), and her persistently upbeat tone of voice, and making an immediate judgment that this was someone she would never like. Jordan had a heart-shaped face, with a sharp, almost elfin chin, china blue eyes, and a spattering of pale freckles across her nose. She had probably been a cheerleader, Ellen thought, and a sorority sister. Ellen, as a petite person herself, felt strongly that small people should avoid perkiness at all costs.

"I know this must be hard for you," Jordan said. "But you should know that I'm very good with houses. I was an art history and architecture major at U.Va. Where did you go to school?"

The question irritated Ellen. To begin with, it had been more than twenty years since she'd been in any kind of school, so she had no idea why that should be important. And it was also a question that was so completely "East Coast" as to be embarrassing. No one in Oregon ever asked-or cared-about your school affiliation.

"This is the West Coast," Ellen said, a little sharply: "You're not supposed to ask what college someone went to here."

Jordan smiled. "I need to measure the kitchen window again for my contractor," she said, putting her bag down on the tile countertop. "I'll only be a minute."

Ellen watched Jordan, standing on tiptoe in her tiny black capri pants and gray U.Va. sweatshirt, stretching the tape measure from one end of her windowsill to the other. Ellen felt suddenly and unreasonably enraged. And that's when she first thought of burning down the house, picturing Jordan's pert month in a perfect little O of astonishment when she heard the news.

Ellen didn't know what to do with the intensity of her feelings about the house. If she lost a parent, God forbid, or even a beloved pet, the outpouring of sympathy from her friends and family would be enormous and complete and sincere. But no one seemed to empathize with the huge sense of loss she had over the house, the grief that felt as real as any she had experienced. It was the death of a life, the life she and Sam and Sara and Louisa had had here and now would never have again.

To be perfectly honest, the house had its flaws. The kitchen was too small and dark and the upstairs bathroom ridiculously crowded, up under the eaves. The stairwell from the first floor to the second was so steep and narrow they couldn't even fit their queen-size box spring into the opening and had had to special-order one that was split in two. But their bedroom window looked out across the orchard next door, an overgrown tangle of espaliered apple trees, and beyond that over a row of Douglas firs to the purple and blue mounds of the Cascades in the distance. She had ripped up the carpet there herself, and stripped and sanded and polished the old oak floors until they glowed. She'd spent weeks poring over paint chips and mixing colors and painting swatches on the walls to come up with just the right shade of blue-lavender, the same color as the mountains that ribboned across the horizon outside the window. She'd stood each of the girls against the doorjamb to Sam's closet twice a year and carefully marked the date and their height and their initials. It was not just rooms, not just a house; it was an expression of Ellen herself, nurtured as carefully as the people she'd loved inside its walls.

Jordan, standing in Ellen's kitchen, tapped her little foot impatiently. Ellen noted that she was wearing Tinker Bell sneakers. Why on earth a thirty-something woman who clearly had given birth and seen something of life would want to wear a Disney character on her feet was inexplicable to Ellen.

"Ellen? You'll be out by May thirty-first, right? I really need to get my carpenters in here as soon as possible."

Carpenters. Ellen saw hammers smashing great holes in the plaster of her walls, crowbars prying loose carefully painted moldings and cupboards.

"Yes," she said. "By five on May thirty-first."

"Good." Jordan picked up her big brown handbag, overflowing with pens, blueprints (for my house! Ellen thought), and a sterling silver key fob attached to a ring of at least sixteen jangly keys.

"Oh, and Jordan?"

Jordan turned, running a hand possessively over the smooth ceramic countertop.

"Yes?"

"Harvard. Early decision. Magna cum laude," Ellen lied flawlessly. "See you in a few weeks."

The last day of May was little more than three weeks away. Immediately after Jordan left, Ellen poured herself a cup of tea and sat down at the computer. Of course she couldn't do anything obvious-she had two girls to raise, and no intention of spending the next twenty years in jail. She had to make sure no one was hurt. It had to be a contained fire, one that couldn't spread to the neighbors' homes or injure the firefighters. It had to be just enough to gut a room, pour thick smoke through the rest of the house, just enough to leave the house unsalvageable. Then Jordan and her carpenters could tear it down and build a perfect new house, one that wouldn't include the room where Ellen had lain in bed for five days after losing the baby, her middle child, or the rooms where Sara had taken her first step and Louisa had whispered "hot, hot"-her first word.

Ellen looked up electrical hazards. Overloaded sockets. Loose wires. Bare wires. Water near wires. The house was almost seventy years old, after all. Then again, the intricacies of electrical wiring terrified Ellen, who still had those little plastic protectors stuck in the sockets even though the girls were no longer babies, just because it made her feel better. No, she needed an accidental fire, something simple. Candles.

The screen door to the kitchen slammed, and Ellen quickly turned off the computer screen.

"Ellie?"

"Here, in the office."

Sam walked in and sat on the arm of the blue and white striped couch. His Navy, almost black hair stuck out in every direction. He was dressed in baggy tan corduroys and a navy blue Henley shirt that lay untucked over his pants. A two-day stubble of beard, black speckled with gray, covered the lean angles of his cheeks and chin. Ellen had always loved his rumpledness, even when he drove her crazy. Part of it was simply that he was so physically beautiful and didn't even know it, and clearly didn't care. With his high cheekbones, thick dark brows, and brown-black eyes, he looked almost foreign, exotic. A gifted athlete, he moved with an unthinking grace, with a complete ease and familiarity with his body that Ellen envied. She looked at him and realized that, even though she was about to divorce him, she was still attracted to him and probably always would be.

"Are the girls home? I promised I'd take them for ice cream."

"No, they're not home yet. They're staying at Joanna's for dinner," Ellen said. "But Jordan Boyce was here. She just left."

"I thought you didn't want to meet her," Sam said. He picked up Louisa's pink rubber ball from the floor and began to toss it up and down absentmindedly with one hand, catching it without even seeming to look at it.

"I didn't! She called and asked if she could come take some measurements. I told her I'd be out until six but would leave the back door unlocked. She showed up twenty minutes after I got home. I know she did it just so she could meet me and tell me how wonderfully she's going to take care of the house. I hate her."

"That's silly," Sam said, deftly tossing the ball above his head and catching it behind his back.

"It's not silly," Ellen said. "And stop throwing that ball."

"It's silly to hate someone you don't even know," Sam said, with some exasperation. He placed the ball down on the couch and looked at her. "You don't know Jordan Boyce. You just met her. You hate her because you hate moving."

"No," Ellen said. "I hate moving and I hate her."

"This is like having a conversation with a three-year-old," Sam said.

"Oh, come on, Sam. She's an idiot, with her little U.Va. sweatshirt and her fake sincerity. And the Realtor told me she's named her children Lily and Daisy and Stamen, so they all have flower names."

"She didn't name a child Stamen," said Sam. "Really?"

"She did! When she had her son, she couldn't name him Poppy or Iris or another girls' flower name, so she named him Stamen. It sounds close enough to Holden and Caden and all those other trendy boy names you hear at every preschool now. And she kept telling me again and again how the house will be so well-loved-as though I didn't love it well enough!" Ellen felt like crying again.

"Oh, come on," Sam said. "It's a house. It's four walls and a roof and it's been a good house for us and now our life is changing. You'll have another house."

"But it won't be this house," Ellen said. "That's like saying if Sara dies I can just have another child."

"It's nothing like that," Sam said. He made a disgusted tsking sound with his tongue that really irritated her. "That's a totally inappropriate analogy. You wanted this, remember?"

"I didn't want this," Ellen said. "I never wanted to leave the house."

"Right," said Sam. He stood up in front of the couch, both hands on his hips. "You just wanted to leave me. It's no big deal to leave me, and to take the kids away from their father, but it's huge to have to give up the house."

Ellen looked at him mutely. She was forty-four, and she was tired. For the first six years of their marriage they had moved, on average, once every eighteen months. Sam was an inventor. After getting a degree in chemical engineering followed by a brilliant early career in product development for Procter & Gamble, he'd decided to start his own business, SamCan, Inc., where he created a series of wildly imaginative new products. The problem was that every new idea seemed to be accompanied by his conviction that he had to live in just the right place to launch it. They moved to Fort Worth when Sam invented the line-dancing boot, footwear that contained a small metronome that tapped out the dance beat for the rhythm-impaired. When that didn't take off (no one in Texas seemed to consider themselves rhythm-impaired), they moved on to Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, and then Brooklyn. Finally, twelve years ago, they arrived in Portland to perfect the Gutter Buddy, a motorized little broom that fit inside a gutter, chopped the pine needles and leaves into bits, then pushed them down the drainpipe.

And then Ellen simply refused to move again. After years of putting off having children, and working endless hours to get her decorating business up and running in one town after another, she was done. She wanted to buy a house and paint the walls red, not some neutral rental color. She wanted to get pregnant and have babies. She wanted to plant bulbs and know she'd be there in the spring to watch them bloom. She wanted to make friends and reminisce over shared memories that went back more than twelve months.

So they stayed. Sam took a job at Oregon Health & Science University, working in biomedical engineering, and she opened her shop, Coffee@home, where she sold espresso drinks and home furnishings, and she had the babies and worked on the house and planted a perennial garden. She became best friends with Joanna, her next-door neighbor. They went through pregnancy and breast feeding and croup together, and their children were so close that Joanna's daughter, Emily, became known as "Three," the third child Ellen and Sam had wanted but couldn't have. Alter twelve years in Portland, Ellen had finally allowed herself to believe that this was it, that she had roots that were deep and strong and permanent. So when Sam came home one day and announced that he had an absolutely brilliant idea that could fly only in New York, she said, simply, "No."

The baby beeper was his best idea yet, Sam said. It was a tiny electronic beeper, the size of a pencil eraser, that could be sewed inside a onesie or a diaper cover. When the button was pushed on a remote, the beeper would go off, revealing the whereabouts of a wayward baby. Ellen had to admit that she loved the idea of the beeper. Louisa, an amazingly agile baby, had walked at ten months and taught herself to climb out of her crib at twelve months. Within a week she'd thoroughly mastered the crib escape, leaving Ellen in a complete panic when she went to wake the baby from her nap, only to find an empty mattress and a lonely stuffed Winnie the Pooh. Over the course of one memorable week she had found Louisa hiding in the cupboard under the bathroom sink, cheerfully eating a bar of vanilla-scented soap; inside the wicker toy chest, humming to the stuffed animals; and, most frightening of all, outside on the front lawn, holding out her naptime bottle to a fat robin. The idea that Louisa had managed to get out of not just the crib but the house terrified Ellen, who had spent fifteen agonizing minutes searching for her. If she'd had a baby beeper, she could have found Louisa instantly And imagine how useful it would be in a mall or grocery store when a child darted off, Sam pointed out.

Once the idea for the baby beeper hit, Sam spent hours trying to develop a transmitter that was small enough to be easily stitched into a piece of baby clothing, yet powerful enough to send a loud signal from a good distance away. He wanted to quit work to devote himself to the baby beeper full-time. He made a few prototypes and took them to local baby clothing stores like Hanna Andersson. He drew up a marketing plan. Still there was no place in the world like New York City for obsessed parents willing to spend money on the latest baby gadget, he said, and New York was the place to be if they were really going to make the baby beeper a success.

Ellen, while impressed with the baby beeper's potential, still had her doubts and was adamant about not moving. What if the baby beeper didn't take off? she argued. What if they ended up eighteen months from now with their savings depleted and Sam out of work? They had children in school, with friends and routines and all the familiarity that years in one place finally had brought them.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from House and Home by Kathleen McCleary
Copyright © 2008 by Kathleen McCleary. 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.

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Meet the Author

Kathleen McCleary is a reporter and writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, More, and Health. A column she wrote on marriage for USA Weekend magazine generated more mail than any other first-person column the magazine had ever run. She is also a regular columnist for HGTV.com; one of her pieces sparked such huge reader response that it launched a TV series on the HGTV network, Bad Bad Bath.

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