Noonan's timely debut tells the Pat Tillmanesque tale of a football star turned soldier gunned down in Iraq by friendly fire. Abby, John Stanton's widowed wife, wants answers from the tight-lipped military who insist John was killed by an "insurgent," and John's parents want him lauded in a hero's burial in Arlington cemetery. Meanwhile, the real killer, a psychopath in John's battalion, comes home and wants to take over John's once-charmed life. Written with great insight into military families and the constant struggle between supporting the troops but not the war, Noonan delivers a fast-paced, character-driven tale with a touch of mystery. Her only misstep is revealing the killer's identity too early-a forgivable sin in this otherwise respectable drama. (Jan.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
One September Morningby Rosalind Noonan
The moment Abby Fitzgerald sees two soldiers approach her front door, she knows her husband is dead. John Stanton, who gave up his career as a star NFL running back to serve after 9/11, has been killed in Iraq. Suddenly Abby's kitchen is overflowing with casseroles brought by the army wives' club to which she has never really belonged. And her in-laws arrange a lavish funeral at Arlington National Cemetery in spite of Abby's misgivings. John had grown to hate the war even though he loved his country, and Abby can't reconcile the complex man she knew with the version being portrayed by self-serving politicians, military, and the media.
Shell-shocked, Abby strives to cope with her own heartache while comforting John's loved ones, including his mother Sharice, his staunchly anti-war sister Madison, and his bitter younger brother Noah. But amidst her loss is a growing conviction that the truth about John's death is far from over.
Gripping, thoughtful, and emotionally powerful, One September Morning is a story of loyalty and betrayal, of a shattered family's journey toward healing, and of the courage it takes to confront the truth not just about our enemies, but about those we love best.
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One September Morning
By Rosalind Noonan
Copyright © 2009
All right reserved.
Chapter One Fort Lewis, Washington Abby
It's wrong to wish your life away.
Abby Fitzgerald knows that. Still, resting one hip against the porch rail that's been painted over so many times it's taken on a new, snakelike shape of its own, she wishes away a beautiful September morning. The green stretch of lawn, the yellow and orange mums bursting like a dozen suns in the community flower bed, the expanse of cerulean sky and Mount Rainier huddled on the horizon like a gentle giant-let them be gone.
Abby would trade them all for the grim, gray rain of December, the month her husband returns from Iraq. Gripping her hot teacup with both hands, she closes her eyes and wills away the day, the months ... September, October, November, December.
Which does not work. When she opens her eyes, September reigns, dammit.
A few feet away, birds swoop onto feeders John tacked in place. Chickadees and house finches quickly snatch up black sunflower seeds, then bounce down to the bushes. At the saucer dangling from the porch overhang, the buzz of a hummingbird is slightly alarming, and Abby catches sight of the tiny bird just long enough to see the patches of iridescent violet on its head. Busy creatures. So damned chipper. She should follow their example-wake up and get to work. She needs a clear head to pull her notes together for tonight's presentation.
But the dream absorbs her.
Last night, John seemed so real that it felt more like a visitation-a spark of contact with the warmth of his body-than a dream. Her mind replays the sequence, the sensation of John moving beside her, twisting the sheets away from her the way he always does, then flopping onto his side with a relieved sigh. Abby was so caught up in the ebb and flow of her own rhythmic breath beneath the quilt that it required great effort to open her eyes through the mask of sleep. But she did. She turned to him and observed him settling in beside her, his head a halo of dark hair, his broad back a wall of comfort for her as his solid body sank into the mattress.
The citrus scent of his aftershave clung to the bedding, and she heard him, too. Heard him calling her name, his voice a tidal wave washing through their small bedroom, breaking through her consciousness, then crashing into the street outside to resound over the neighborhood, the military base, the wide patches of green lawn and suburban sprawl that stretch north to Seattle and east to Mount Rainier.
"Abby," he called, the tenor of his voice both heartbroken and exalted, and so heavy it rumbled the bed, shook the room, causing their wedding photo and the tiny porcelain bowls on the dresser to shimmy and clink. Abby recalls bracing herself for the earthquake, having experienced them a few times since moving to the Pacific Northwest. But it was only the ripple of her husband's voice stirring the air.
Even as her eyes searched the dim landscape of her room, the wide expanse of pale sheets beside her, she knew John wouldn't-couldn't-be here. Of course not. He was on the other side of the world, where their night is our day and our day is their night. While she slept, the sun was already blazing over the desert plain of Iraq. Thousands of miles away.
And yet his presence felt so real.
"Just a dream," Abby says aloud, for only the chickadees and nuthatches to hear. "Just a dream," she reassures herself, knowing that it still can't explain the vividness of the moment. The smell of sweet clove from his aftershave.
Or the warmth of her husband's body beside her.
She's not sure when she dozed off, but this morning she awakened to an empty bed and a beautiful morning. The golden September sun warmed the earth with one last sigh of summer, the air crisp and brash and bright. A gorgeous day, but Abby Fitzgerald has learned not to trust a beautiful morning. She's seen tragedy dance in the arms of happiness, dance without missing a beat.
The morning her father was stricken with cardiac arrest, Abby was rolling on the grass of the junior high, playing Ultimate Frisbee with her gym class. The day John told her of his discontent with professional sports and his desire to enlist in the army began in Paris with a walk through a farmer's market with all the color and texture of an Impressionist painting. And the most deceptive morning imaginable etched itself deep within her memory: the September day that dawned with a clear, blue sky over Manhattan five years ago, the morning she looked out from her dorm room and spotted smoke billowing from the North Tower of the World Trade Center across the harbor.
Digging her fingernails into the thick paint of the porch rail, Abby turns toward the kitchen. You can't keep going back to that. If she's losing her mind, she's not about to go down without a strong cup of coffee.
While coffee brews, she flips open her laptop and checks her e-mail. Nothing from John, but then sometimes he is assigned to shifts that keep him away from the computer for extended periods. She dashes off an e-mail, telling him about the vivid dream. I knew I missed you, she writes, but now I'm dreaming you into our bed. Sure sign that I'm losing my mind without you. December can't come soon enough.
Although this is John's second deployment to Iraq, this time the detachment feels more acute, the parting more intimate, and Abby still wonders how she fell into this role of military wife. It was not something she foresaw for herself when she was making plans, thinking she'd make very conscious choices, as if life were a route that could be charted on Mapquest. She'd never imagined saying good-bye to her new husband and trying to patch together a life on an army base with other women married to the military. Although Abby has always been independent and competent, this separation from the man she loves seems endless, as if she's put her life on hold, sealed into an airtight container until the day of John's return.
You've got your job to do, John e-mailed her when she mentioned her feelings. Remember the deal? Finish that master's and study for the licensing exam.
The plan made perfect sense when John departed on the drab green bus. While he was gone, she would focus on her psych degree, finishing up her course work before embarking on clinicals. But she hadn't expected to be distracted with worry, flipping on CNN, Nightline, the Today show in search of news that might involve John. Tuning in to NPR while driving. Naively, she'd thought it would end soon. Saddam Hussein's Baghdad fell in 2003; wasn't that the goal of the U.S. Army? They'd found no weapons of mass destruction. Recently, she'd heard a politician compare the use of force in Iraq to trying to fix a wristwatch with a sledgehammer. But the word was, our armed forces were in it for the long haul.
Outside, she lowers her laptop and books onto the table. Their yard backs up to a common area that John rallied residents to refurbish soon after they moved here. Japanese maples and boxwood shrubs were planted, a brick barbecue was built, and a play structure installed for children of all the military families housed here. "Don't you think you should ask permission to do all this stuff?" one resident asked, squinting at John suspiciously. Abby sips her coffee, recalling John's answer: "It's easier to ask forgiveness than permission." Looking at the play structure, Abby can still see John drilling while Suz's husband, Scott, kneeled on the ground with the level, ready to pour cement over the anchors.
Funny, but she can feel John's presence here, too.
Now the scent of apple blossoms and September roses sweetens the air as Abby waves to Peri Corbett, who is mowing her lawn on the other side of the commons. Peri lifts one hand, then cautiously steers around a flower bed, and for the bazillionth time Abby wonders how the woman manages so well with three kids, and her husband deployed overseas. "You just do it," Peri always says when she and Abby run into each other at the commissary and chat over fresh tomatoes or blocks of cheddar.
Abby sinks into a chair and drags the textbook into her lap. As if she has time to mope around and fantasize about making some telepathic connection with her husband. She's got a PowerPoint to write on solution-focused family therapy. This evening she is scheduled to present this approach to the rest of the class. She works steadily, spurred, as always, by the impending deadline. Having typed five bulleted points, she frowns, not sure where to go next.
"You know I love you, so you won't mind my saying that you look like hell." A familiar voice calls from the kitchen window of the attached duplex.
Her neighbor Suz.
"I couldn't sleep last night," Abby replies to the dark window screen.
A moment later Suz appears at her back door, stepping onto the patio, hands on her hips. "I never sleep anymore, but that's no reason to be nodding off at this time of the morning."
It's as close as Suz has ever come to complaining. In the four months since her husband, Scott, was killed outside the city of Baghdad by an IED, a roadside bomb, Suz has pushed herself, sometimes stoically, to "shut up and move on," as she puts it. The army allows widows and their families to remain in base housing for six months after the death of the service member; Suz will need a new place by December.
"Where's Sofia?" Abby asks. Suz usually keeps her three-year-old daughter within reach.
"Day care. I dropped her off for a full day today. Got some leads on apartments near here, and I figured I'd check 'em out without the mommy baggage. One of them's supposed to have a hot tub," Suz adds, an enticing lilt in her voice. "Want to come with and check 'em out?"
"I wish. But I'm beat. I didn't sleep well last night."
Suz tilts her head, the concerned mother. "You feeling okay, sweet pea?"
"Just hallucinating in my sleep. I dreamed John was in my bed last night."
"A juicy dream, I hope." Suz grins wickedly.
"It was sort of reassuring ... except that it felt so real. I swear, when I woke up, there was a warm spot in the bed beside me. I could smell his aftershave on the pillowcase."
Suz rubs her arms. "I'm getting goose bumps. Come with me and you can fill in all the details."
"Can't. I'm pulling some notes together for a presentation due tonight."
"Well, you were in a funk when I caught you. You got to visualize success, honey."
Abby reaches back and twists her hair into a loose knot. "Does that work for you?"
"Hell, I'm always too busy visualizing whirled peas. That and wrapping up dolls for a three-year-old. As of this morning, we've got another baby in the box."
"Really?" Abby bites back a grin. In the past few months, three-year-old Sofia has insisted on having her baby dolls tucked into shoe boxes and wrapped up as if they were gifts, which she carries around in a large shopping bag. Abby suspects that the behavior has something to do with the loss of her father, but as she's pointed out to Suz, it's a harmless practice. "Maybe Fia is onto something," Abby says. "I'm going to try that the next time I'm feeling blue. Wrap up something I own and give it to myself as a gift. Maybe carry it around for a few weeks so that everyone will know I've got something special."
"Well, good luck with that," Suz says. "'Cause my daughter has cleaned every last shoe box out of your closet."
Abby smiles at her friend, who looks almost professional with her ginger-colored hair swept back with a skinny headband. She's wearing a lime green tank with a matching polkadotted sweater, a denim skirt and black polka-dotted flip-flops. "You're all dressed up today." When Suz works the counter at Java Joe's, she sticks to shorts or jeans and a T-shirt. "What's the occasion?"
"Just trying to look respectable for my potential landlords." Suz yanks off the headband and shakes out her hair. "Respectable, but not loaded. Rents aren't cheap around here."
"True." Abby is relieved that her friend wants to stay in the area. At first, she thought Suz might take Sofia home to Nebraska. Suz and Scott both enlisted years ago to "get the hell out of Dodge," as Suz likes to say.
"I thought you were going to look for a place closer to Seattle?" Abby says.
"Yeah, I was, but those places are really expensive. I don't know what to do. I'd sort of like to stick nearby and keep Sofia in the same day care. Continuity and all. But part of me wants to make a clean break and start over somewhere else."
Abby nods, slipping her feet out of her sandals and hugging her knees. "Joe should give you a raise. You certainly deserve one."
"Yeah, well, I'm not sure that Joe can afford me much longer. With Scott gone, I need a real job. A career. That's the only way Sofia and I will get anywhere."
"I like the way you're thinking," Abby says. "The way you're always pushing ahead. You're amazing, Suz."
"Talk is cheap ... a helluva lot cheaper than housing in the Seattle area. Besides, I've got a deadline breathing down my neck. The army wants me outta here in December, and with the holidays coming, it just complicates things for a move." She slides the headband back into place. "You sure you can't come along? I'll buy you a latte."
"Next time." Abby leafs through the pages, searching for the chapter's end. "And if I've got any say, I vote for the place with the hot tub."
"Yeah, I'm going to need it for all those wild parties I throw ... for three-year-olds." She slides the patio door open. "Listen, I've got the sprinkler going out front, so's we don't get our own version of a dust bowl. Do me a favor and turn it off in, like, half an hour."
"Got it." Abby waves good-bye even as her eyes skim down a page of the textbook.
Talking with Suz has energized her, and she works more efficiently now, organizing the material, writing an outline for her presentation and inputting the presentation into the PowerPoint format. When she's done, she clicks on the Save icon, then notices the time in the corner of the screen.
"Damn! The lawn's going to be a swamp." Leaving her sandals on the patio, she clamps a textbook under one arm and races through the house and out the front door to find the sprinkler silently rotating. The lawn isn't too soaked, though a puddle of excess water is now running over the sidewalk and down toward the street.
She steps off the narrow brick porch, gasping as her feet sink into the wet mulch behind a shrub John planted. Her fingers close over the handle of the spigot and twist toward the right. Right tight, lefty loosey. Out on the lawn, the fountain of water dies down as the sprinkler stops whirling. Straightening up, Abby wipes her hand on her shorts as a dark car rolls slowly up the quiet street. It's not Suz's boxy Volvo wagon, and not one of the neighbors'. She takes in the shiny black sedan, which slows and then parks right in front of her house.
Her focus sharpens on the two officers inside the vehicle-a man and a woman who exchange a word, then reach for their hats.
Their dress hats, she notes, as they step out in full dress uniforms, pants creased, shirts smooth and starched.
Abby is stung by adrenaline, alarm coursing through her. It's the casualty notification team, the messengers all the army wives talk about, the sight every military wife dreads seeing outside her door.
Don't panic, she tells herself. Maybe they're John's friends. Maybe someone you know on leave here, come to bring one of John's creative personal greetings.
But she does not recognize their faces, and there's no joke in the demeanor of this woman who stares down at her well-shined shoes, no animation in the face of this man who stands, jaw clenched, regret embedded in his eyes.
And suddenly, she knows.
She knows they bring her the absolute worst news.
"Are you Mrs. John Stanton?" the man asks.
She nods, feeling like an actress playing out a melodramatic scene. Despite the panic beating like a hummingbird's wings deep in her breast, she wants to laugh it all off. This can't be true. They must have the wrong information.
He gives his rank and introduces the female soldier, but it's drowned out in the deafening roar swirling in her head and her acute awareness of bizarre details. The sergeant must have cut himself shaving this morning, and there's a pinpoint of tissue stuck to the edge of his jaw. A flock of small birds rises from some nearby laurels. They circle, then return to their spot. The woman wears a ribbon that's green and red, reminding Abby of Christmas. Home by Christmas, that's what John keeps writing in his e-mails.
Excerpted from One September Morning by Rosalind Noonan Copyright © 2009 by Rosalind Noonan. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Rosalind Noonan grew up in suburban Maryland and enjoyed being part of a large family. "With my four siblings, Saturday mornings were a blast," she says. "There was festival seating on the living room floor as we tuned into cartoons and passed the Sugar Pops."
While attending Wagner College in Staten Island she lived in Harbor View Hall, a dormitory that offers an inspiring view of New York Harbor, including the Statue of Liberty and the southern tip of Manhattan. After graduation she worked in New York City as an editor and copywriter for various book publishers. She has studied writing for screen and theater at The New School. She currently lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two children.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I very much enjoyed this military mystery with a little paranormal mixed in.
It hooked me right from the first chapter I loved all of the characters really felt their pain. It took me a long while to figure out who the bad guy was. I really did not want it to end I felt like I was saying goodbye to my friends
I loved the characters and the plot. It reminded me of "law and order" with a plot right from recent events. I really identified with many of the characters, and grew to care about the family.
Following 9/11 NFL running back John Stanton informs his wife Abby and his parents that he is giving up his football career and his multimillion dollar contract to enlist in the army. After training, he and his unit deploy in Iraq where he is killed in a friendly fire incident. The officers who inform Abby of her husband¿s death insist he was a hero killed by insurgents.
The Wives¿ Club provides a grieving Abby with support while her in-laws demand Arlington National Cemetery, which the military is elated to provide. However, Abby begins to find discrepancies in the official report especially since her spouse was disenchanted with a war that made no sense. As she begins to demand the truth, the Wives¿ Club and her in-laws demand she shut up before she taints the image of a hero while John¿s two siblings encourage her to keep probing. Meanwhile, the maniac who deliberately murdered John has come to town to live the life of the late football star.
The obvious Pat Tillman connection aside, ONE SEPTEMBER MORNING is an insightful look at some modern military dependents struggling between support to their loved ones and their opposition to the Iraq War. The characters are fully developed and clearly divided. Most of Stanton¿s unit and their families want Abby to go away while his parents want nothing to taint their son the hero. Abby needs the truth and her anti war sister-in-law pushes her to keep asking. Although the psychopath provides added tension that takes a way from an otherwise deep look at the family member on the home front while a loved one is in a combat zone.