Scrapbook of Secrets (Cumberland Creek Series #1)by Mollie Cox Bryan
Having traded in her career as a successful investigative journalist for the life of a stay-at-home mom in picturesque Cumberland Creek, Virginia, Annie can't help but feel that something's missing. But she finds solace in a local "crop circle" of scrapbookers united by chore-shy husbands, demanding children, and occasional fantasies of their former single lives.… See more details below
Having traded in her career as a successful investigative journalist for the life of a stay-at-home mom in picturesque Cumberland Creek, Virginia, Annie can't help but feel that something's missing. But she finds solace in a local "crop circle" of scrapbookers united by chore-shy husbands, demanding children, and occasional fantasies of their former single lives. And when the quiet idyll of their small town is shattered by a young mother's suicide, they band together to find out what went wrong. . .
Annie resurrects her reporting skills and discovers that Maggie Rae was a closet scrapbooker who left behind more than a few secretsand perhaps a few enemies. As they sift through Maggie Rae's mysteriously discarded scrapbooks, Annie and her "crop" sisters begin to suspect that her suicide may have been murder. It seems that something sinister is lurking beneath the town's beguilingly calm façadelike a killer with unfinished business. . .
"A scrapbook of zany small town life with characters you'll want to visit again and again in each new novel." Emilie Richards, author of Sunset Bridge
"Imagine the housewives of Wisteria Lane sipping tea, scrapbooking, and solving murders, and you have this gem of a debut." Lois Winston, author of Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun
"Intriguing characters, eerie happenings. . .kept me guessing 'til the end." Clare O'Donohue
Includes tips and a glossary of terms for the modern scrapbooker!
Read an Excerpt
SCRAPBOOK of SECRETS
By Mollie Cox Bryan
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2012 Mollie Cox Bryan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFor Vera, all of the day's madness began when she saw the knife handle poking out of her mother's neck. Her mother didn't seem to know it. In fact, she was surprised that the blade was inside her. "How did that happen?" she demanded to know from her daughter.
Vera just looked at her calmly. "Well, now, Mother, we need to call someone, an ambulance ... a doctor.... I don't know. Should we pull it out, or what?"
If Vera only had a nickel for every time her mother gave her that look. A look of unbelieving pity, as if to say, Sometimes I can't believe the stupidity of my grown daughter. Having a brilliant mother was not easy—ever—especially not as an adult. As a child, Vera assumed all grown-ups were as smart as her mother, and it was easy to acquiesce to her in all of her grown-up, brilliant, scientific knowledge. At the age of eighty, Beatrice showed no signs of slowness in her mind or any forgetfulness. Nothing. Vera almost looked forward to the day she could help her mother remember something or even tell her something that she didn't know.
As she sat in the X-ray waiting area, looking out the window over a construction site, with a huge dilapidated barn in the distance, she marveled once again at her mother's strength and tenacity. Evidently, she was stabbed during her travels through the town this Saturday morning. She didn't feel a thing—and with three grocery bags in her hands, Beatrice walked four blocks home, the same path she'd traveled for fifty years. "Four different grocery stores have been there and have gone out of business," Beatrice would say. "Yet, I'm still here, walking the same street, the same path. I refuse to die."
Beatrice would not allow her daughter—or anyone—to pick up groceries for her or take her shopping. She said that as long as she could keep getting herself to the grocery store, she knew she was fine. Food is life. "It's the ancient food-foraging impulse in me. I feel it even stronger, the older I get. I want to take care of myself."
How could a woman who still fended for herself every day—cooking, gardening, canning, cleaning, and writing—not feel a knife jab into her neck?
"Vera?" said a man in medical garb who stood in front of her.
"Yes," she said, standing up.
"I'm Dr. Hansen. We've just X-rayed your mom and looked over the film," he said, smiling, revealing two deep dimples and a beautiful set of teeth. He held the film in his hands. "Would you like to see them?"
She followed him over to the wall, where he clicked on a light and clipped on the X-ray to it.
"As you can see, the knife is pretty deep." He pointed to the blade. His nails and hands were the cleanest Vera had ever seen on a man. An overall well-manicured appearance.
"Y-yes," she stammered. That was a knife in her mother's neck. A knife. Long and sharp. Menacing.
"Here's the thing, rather than give you a bunch of medical mumbo jumbo, I'm just going to put this in lay terms."
She despised his patronizing tone. He wasn't even born yet when her father was practicing medicine out of their home. She knew about the human body. She was a dancer; her father was a physician. Her mother might be old, but she was no slouch.
"The reason your mom didn't feel this is because it's lodged in an area where there are few nerve endings, which is a blessing because she is not really in any pain," he said, taking a breath. "You just don't see this every day."
"No," Vera said.
"We can pull it out, using local anesthesia, with great risk for potential blood loss and so on. If she flinches or moves while we're removing it, the damage could be severe. We can also operate to remove it, put her under, which I think is the safest thing."
Vera looked at him for some guidance or answer. Damn it, Bill is out of town. "Have you talked to her about it?"
"She doesn't want surgery. She wants us to pull it out."
"So what's the problem? It's her body. I can't make decisions like that for her."
"Your mom is eighty years old and we're not sure she's thinking clearly. And the danger—"
"Doctor," Vera said, trying not to roar. She felt an odd tightening in her guts. She stood up straighter. "My mother's mind is perfectly fine. It's her neck that seems to be the problem right now, and the fact that a knife is sticking out of it."
He looked away. "Vera, I know this might be hard for you. A lot of times we don't see the truth when it comes to our aging parents."
"What exactly are you talking about? I am very close with my mom and would know if something was wrong. I don't understand."
"Well, she's been talking to herself, for one thing."
Vera laughed. "No, she's not. She's talking to my dad. He died about twenty years ago. She talks to him all the time."
He looked at her as if she had lost her mind. "Do you think that's normal?"
"For her, it is."
Vera's mind wandered as the doctor was called away. He said he'd be back. She looked at the crisp blue hospital walls, with beautiful landscape paintings, all strategically placed. One was above the leather sofa so you could lie or sit in style to await the news about your loved ones and gaze into the peaceful garden gazebo landscape; one was above the chair; the hallways were lined with them. Vera saw herself walking down the hall and looking at the same prints twenty years ago. Tranquil settings of barns and flowers did not help the pain. She was only twenty-one then, and she thought she'd soon be back in New York City. As soon as her father healed, got home, and was on the road to being himself, she'd hop on the train to continue her dancing career. She had no idea she'd never see her father again—nor would she ever dance professionally again.
The last time Vera was here was with her father. The hospital had just opened, and he was impressed with the technology and the vibrant pulse of new medicine. The research arm intrigued him. Some older doctors were jaded and looked at the new hospital with suspicion, but not her father. Ironic that he died here, under the new establishment's care.
She sighed a deep and heavy sigh.
"Vera!" It was Sheila running up the hall, wiry brown hair needing combing. She was dressed in a mismatched sweat suit. "Oh, girl! What on earth is going on? I've been hearing rumors. Is your mama okay? Lord!"
For the first time that day, Vera smiled. "Sit down, Sheila. You're a mess."
Sheila took a quick look at herself and laughed. "You know, I just threw anything on. Is your mother—"
"She's fine," said Vera. "She's trying to tell the doctors what to do."
"Really?" Sheila sat up a little straighter, looking very serious. "I can hardly believe that," she said, and a laugh escaped. Then she grabbed her belly and howled in a fit of laughter.
Vera felt tears coming to her eyes through her own chortles. "You haven't heard the best part," she managed to say, trying to calm herself down as a nurse passed by, glancing at them. "Mama was stabbed and she never felt a thing."
"What?" Sheila stopped laughing for a minute. "Are you serious?" Her face reddened and laugher escaped. "Oh, girl, only Beatrice. Only Beatrice."
Vera's mother had just been stabbed, and she and her best friend were laughing about it, like schoolgirls unable to control their nervous giggles. A part of Vera felt like she was betraying her mother. However, she knew if Beatrice had been in this room, she'd be laughing, too.
When the women calmed down, Sheila brought up Maggie Rae, which was the other startling news of the day. "Did you hear the news?"
Vera sighed. "Yes, I heard about it. I saw the ambulances and police at her house and went over to see what was happening. You know, I blame myself. I knew something was wrong. I just didn't know what to do about it, or maybe I just tried to talk myself out of it."
Vera thought about the tiny young mother, always with her children clinging to her, and with a baby on her hip—or in a stroller. She was pretty in a simple way—never made-up, always pulled her long black hair into a ponytail and wore glasses most of the time. Though once or twice, Vera had seen her wearing contacts, which really opened up her face. Even though Maggie Rae rarely made eye contact, she always held herself erect and moved with a graceful confidence and sway in her hips.
"Now, Vera," said Sheila, "you hardly knew that woman. Who really knew her? She kept to herself."
"She brought Grace in for dance lessons once a week," Vera told her. "I know her as well as any of the rest of them. Except she was awfully quiet. And so small. Like a bird. Every time I saw her, it looked like she had gotten even thinner."
"Hmm-hmm, I know. It's odd. She was one of my best customers, but she never came to a crop," said Sheila, who sold scrapbooking supplies for a living. "I invited her. She never came, so I just ... stopped. You know, you can only push so far."
They sat in their own silence, with the hospital noise all around them, each knowing her own sadness and her own triumphs and joys, but neither knowing what it was like to be pushed quite that far. To be pushed far enough to put a gun to one's heart while the children were peacefully sleeping upstairs. What kind of darkness led Maggie Rae Dasher to that moment? And what do people ever really know about the neighbors and townsfolk who live among them?
"Did she leave a note or anything?" Vera wondered out loud.
A nurse dressed all in blue passed them; a mother carrying a baby in a carrier and holding the hand of a toddler limped along; someone was coughing and another person laughed. A man in a wheelchair wheeled by them, while another gentleman hobbled with a cane. Phones were ringing. Announcements were being made, doctors were paged.
"Damn," said Sheila. "This place sucks."
"Wonder where the doctor is?" Vera looked around. "I'm going over to that desk to see what's going on. I should at least be able to see Mama."
As Vera walked around the nurses' station to try to find some help, she thought she could hear her mother's voice.
"What?" the voice said. "Listen, you twit, you'll do it because I said you will. Stop treating me like I am five. I am eighty, of sound mind and body, except for this friggin' knife hanging out of my neck. And oh, by the way, I am a doctor of physics myself. So don't tell me—"
"Mama," Vera interrupted as she walked into the room. Sitting up in bed, her mother looked so small, which belied the sound of her voice and the redness of her face. "Calm down, sweetie."
She folded her arms over her chest. "Son of a bitch!" She cocked her head and looked behind Vera. "What's the scrapbook queen doing here? Am I dying or something?"
"Hey," Sheila said. "You've got a knife sticking out of the back of your neck. Don't get too cocky, old woman."
"Huh!" Beatrice said, and smiled. "Glad to see you, too. Now, Vera, what are we going to do about this mess?"
"I told the doctor that it's your body. You do what you want, Mama."
"Yes, but," she said, after taking a sip of water, leaning forward on the pillows that were propping her in an awkward position, which forced her to sit up so the knife would not hit the bed, "what do you think? What would you do?"
Vera could hardly believe what she was hearing. Her mother was asking for her advice. She couldn't remember if that had happened before. "Honestly, if it were me, I'd want to be put out. I'd be afraid of moving, you know?"
"I don't know about being operated on at my age.... You know they killed your daddy. What if they kill me, too? I can't leave yet. I've got too much work to do, and then there's you. I can't leave you without a parent," she said quietly.
Vera knew that's what it would come to—this is where he died, not for his heart problems, but from a staph infection.
"Just do what she asks," Vera said to the young doctor, who was still hovering. "She won't move."
Chapter TwoI saw your local newspaper is hiring. They ran an ad on the Web. They say the "bar is high." Jeez, do you think you could do it? (GRIN)—Yolonda The bar is as high as my relatively low-slung ass. Even so, I think the job is a night job and I am half dead by then. I know you don't understand, but running around after two little boys all day long is a killer on your nightlife—even a working nightlife. C'mon. I've worked with you. I know what you can do. It's different. I promise. Back then, I did get breaks and even slept the whole night through.... But guess what, after a year of being here, I am actually starting to get invited to parties. Tupperware. Mary Kay. And oh, yeah, there's the scrapbook party, which I am actually looking forward to. WHAT? My eco-feminist, radical-poet friend is going to a scrapbook party? The Annie I knew would have rather carved her initials into her skin with a sharp blade than sit through one of those things. (In fact, so would I.) That's before I found out the truth. The truth? Yep. This town is run by scrapbookers. They are the women who run everything—the music and dance schools, the public schools, the churches, government. Everything. And they all have one thing in common. They crop till they drop. They WHAT? It's part of the lingo, man. "Crop" is the term they use for parties. It comes from actually cropping photos. They have their own lingo and cool paper. What more could you ask for? Pause. Pause. A stiff drink?
Annie sighed. She didn't know if these women would have drinks at their parties. She really didn't know what to expect.
"Why don't you come to our crop?" Vera said to her at the library a few weeks ago. Vera and her dancers entertained at lunchtime. Annie thought the boys would enjoy it. She honestly didn't know what she would do without the library and its programs.
"We all sit around and work on our scrapbooks, share stuff, and visit. It's a lot of fun," Vera replied.
"Oh, okay, sounds good," Annie said, thinking she would have to dig out her second son's book, and she was not even sure where it was. Poor Ben, he was such a second child. Annie just could not keep up with his baby book, let alone a scrapbook.
One sleepless night, she awoke from a fit of mother guilt and filled in all of the blanks on Ben's baby book. She had no idea if any of the measurements, dates, and whatnots were actually correct. In fact, she was fairly sure they were not. Ben would never know that. At least it would look like his mother had paid attention to these things. Not like the mother that Annie actually was—harried, tired, struggling, and sometimes bored. Yes, even with her own children. And so she still tried to write—but not in baby books.
When Ben's older brother, Sam, was born, Annie did fill in the blanks on all the baby books—well, for the most part. After Ben was born, those blanks went blank as well. And she was going to be the mother who nursed her kids until they were two and fed them only homemade baby food. And they would never watch television, let alone the inane, insane children's videos.
When they first moved to Cumberland Creek, Virginia, they thought they would be welcomed with open arms. It was a peaceful, rural place. Rural people were friendly, warm, community-minded, right? What Annie and Mike found was that they mostly were met with indifference, sometimes tempered with suspicion, especially in their peaceful little town of Cumberland Creek, with its beautiful Victorian architecture and quaint shops, luring tourists. Pleasant place to visit—but not to live, if you are an outsider. An outsider seemed to be anyone whose family did not stretch back at least three generations, and who did not belong to the much-vaunted First Presbyterian, First Baptist, or Episcopal Churches. And in Annie and Mike's case, that was impossible, since they both hailed from Bethesda, Maryland, and were Jewish.
Excerpted from SCRAPBOOK of SECRETS by Mollie Cox Bryan Copyright © 2012 by Mollie Cox Bryan . Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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