A dark cloud is hovering over the usually cheery farmhouse that Grace, Hannah, and Amelia share. Grace has lost someone dear to her, and the mysterious diary from the past has turned Hannah’s life upside down. To raise their spirits, the three ladies take an exotic Caribbean cruise and return with many wonderful stories. But sharing such close quarters while traveling has stirred up conflict, and Amelia and Hannah are suddenly questioning whether they want to continue living in the farmhouse together. Meanwhile, Grace faces her own challenges: the young girl she mentors unknowingly becomes involved with an Internet predator, and Grace’s diabetes worsens. Yet new joy enters their lives when Hannah’s daughter has a baby boy—and when Hannah finally lays her past to rest, she may just be ready to set a wedding date with Max!
With warmth and charm, this celebration of female friendship will inspire and delight readers, whether they’re meeting these wonderful women for the first time or visiting Covington once more!
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Chapter One: Dust Thou Art
The wind moaned as it skirted the white clapboard wall of Cove Road Church and snaked between the headstones in the small cemetery, tweaking women's coats and burrowing with stealthy fingers between men's gloves and wrists.
December, with its biting wind and gray, dreary days, is the most depressing time for a funeral, Amelia Declose thought, as she hugged her ankle-length coat more tightly about her slender body. Without the cashmere coat and the wool scarf draped about her head and wound about her neck, she could not have stood here under this cheerless sky as old Pastor Johnson droned on.
Finally she heard the words "Dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return." Fitting that he would use those words, since Charles, as he'd wished, had been cremated, and a small marble urn had been consigned to the earth.
Amelia felt Grace slip her arm through hers, felt her friend's body shiver through the thickness of their coats. Grace was crying, and why not? Grace had loved Charles, her son Roger's longtime companion. Charles had been kind and generous, sensitive and caring of Grace. Amelia looked across the grave at Roger. Tall and somber, eyes shaded by dark glasses, Roger's handsome face was pained, his lips compressed.
Standing slightly apart from Roger, their housemate, Hannah Parrish, stoic as ever, stared into the distance. At seventy-five, the salt in her salt-and-pepper hair had superceded the pepper, resulting not in the white of freshly fallen snow, like Amelia's hair, but the time-worn white much like the patches of week-old snow that clung to the hillside beyond.
It was over now. The small party of mourners moved silently, slowly across the road and toward the ladies' farmhouse. Most of their friends and neighbors had not known Charles but had come out of respect for Grace.
Grace tucked one arm into that of her companion, Bob Richardson, and the other into Roger's. She could feel the heaviness, the sadness deep within her son, could feel his loss. Her legs, columns of ice, resisted her will to reach the farmhouse before the others, to remove covers from the platters of food she had prepared with the help of Laura, Hannah's pregnant daughter. Laura hadn't asked if she were needed. She had simply walked into the farmhouse kitchen, studied Grace for a moment, and rolled up her sleeves. Grace was grateful, and she looked with affection at the young woman who strode ahead of the others, pressing close to her husband, Hank Brinkley. Grace stopped trying to force herself to move faster. Laura and Hank could handle everything.
On a steamy August night more than a year ago, the ladies' farmhouse and two other homes on the east side of Cove Road had burned to the ground. This disaster had ultimately proved to be a blessing, for in rebuilding the ladies gained a new, modern kitchen, an additional bedroom, and two bathrooms, which left the living room and dining room smaller but, as Amelia said, "cozier." On this day, as the mourners crowded into the living room, Laura, Amelia, and Hank passed platters of food and cups of spiced cider.
Grace sat quietly on the couch next to Roger, who seemed uncomfortable among the crush of people, accepting condolences. Grace was tired, bone tired, from the last few weeks of supporting Roger and from the pain of watching Charles fade and die. She craved privacy and wished she could sneak upstairs to lie down and rest, but she couldn't leave her son. Instead, she smiled politely for what seemed like hours, and joined Roger in thanking the neighbors for coming.
Hannah separated herself from a group and walked over to Grace. "You all right?" she asked. "You look exhausted. Shall I shoo everyone off?"
"No. Thanks. It wouldn't be right. The Herrills and Craines didn't even know Roger and Charles, and they were kind enough to come."
Three weeks ago Roger, devastated and sobbing, had phoned her with the news of Charles's rapidly deteriorating condition. Grace placed her life on hold. With her heart in her mouth, for she had sworn never to fly again, she flew to Branston, Pennsylvania, to take her place beside the hospice team involved in Charles's care. Her contribution had been emotional support, and she had given Charles every ounce of love and energy she possessed.
When she had arrived and appeared in the doorway of his room, he smiled and his eyes lit with pleasure. "Mother Singleton, bless you for coming."
Tears had streamed down her cheeks as she moved toward him and took the chair alongside his bed.
Grace closed her eyes for a moment, remembering how she had held Charles's hand and listened to his regrets and the guilt he felt for the one infidelity that had brought AIDS into his life. As ever, his concern was for Roger.
"What will Roger do when I'm gone? He's really much softer than he lets on, Mother Singleton," Charles said in a barely audible voice.
"I know, Charles, dear, I know." But did she really? There were times when she felt she hardly knew her son. She leaned closer to Charles and recognized the look and smell of death. It had been like this with her husband, Ted. "We'll all be there for Roger."
"I know you will. We bought that condo in Covington when I began to get sick. We used to say we'd retire there." His clenched fist hit the bedcovers. "I was daft to think I could beat this horrible disease."
He lifted an arm so thin and frail she refrained from holding him for fear of hurting him. She took his hand, all bone and blue and black with contusions from the needles in the hospital. "We all make mistakes. We do the best we can."
"I'm not afraid of dying now that the pain's under control," he said. "I can't help wondering if I'll see a light. I remember when I read War and Peace Did you read it?"
"When Prince Andre died, he saw light and felt peace, remember?"
"Yes, I do."
"I couldn't finish the novel after Prince Andre died," Charles said. "Didn't much care what happened to the rest of them. Will I see the light, or angels, or my granny, do you think? Will Granny be there waiting for me?"
"I think she will be."
"You really think so?"
"I do," Grace replied.
His face grew calmer. "I do, too." He slept then.
The following day, when they were alone, Charles had asked, "Do you forgive me?"
"Forgive you? There's nothing to forgive. Life is life," Grace said. "We have our share of joys and sorrows. I love you, Charles. You're like a son to me. I'll miss you more than you can imagine."
"You've been more a mum to me than my own mum."
He closed his lids over sunken eyes. Under hollow cheeks, a wisp of a smile hovered about his lips. His body was shutting down. His shoulders and elbows were all bone, his chest concave. He was eating less each day. No one, she thought, should suffer as he had suffered before hospice took charge and medicated him to keep the pain at bay.
Bob, who had assumed the role of host, tapped her shoulder, pulling her from her memories. "Grace, the Herrills are leaving. Come say good-bye."
Grace rose to her feet. Bob offered his arm, and they walked with Charlie and Velma Herrill to the door. "We're here if you need us, Grace," Velma said.
"Thank you so very much for coming. It was a great comfort," Grace replied.
She meant it. She and Hannah and Amelia had not always been welcome in this rural area of the world, until the fire that had destroyed their home and those of the Herrills and the Craines had linked them all.
Bob shut the door behind their guests.
"I haven't even offered anyone a drink," Grace said, passing her hand across her forehead.
"Laura and Hank handled it all splendidly," Bob said.
"I'm so sorry to have burdened Laura. She's six months into her pregnancy."
"Molly, Brenda, Amelia, Tyler they all pitched in."
"I feel as if I haven't slept in weeks," Grace said. When she did sleep, she dreamed of Charles, his eyes huge in the sockets of his pale, sunken face. She would awaken feeling the grip of his fingers, stripped of flesh, on her arm. "No more dreams like this," she prayed. "I want to remember Charles as the smiling, optimistic man he was."
Long ago, when Roger had first told her that he was gay, confirming long-held, unspoken suspicions, and when he had brought Charles home to meet her and his father, how upset and grieved she had been upset because of what people might think and grieved because Roger was her only child and she would have no grandchildren. But Charles was a fine man, and she had come to love him dearly. Now he was gone. Grace shook her head, shook away the memory of his dying, and heard again the chatter of voices in the living room.
"Bob," she said, turning to look up at him.
Never far from her side today, Bob leaned forward, his lips brushing her cheek, his hands gently resting on her shoulders. "I'm here, Grace. I'm right here."
She reached up to touch his large, gentle hands. Her fingers played with the hair on his knuckles. It was one of the first things she had noticed about him, his gentle hands, and his eyes, brown as chestnuts and kind.
Bob's son Russell moved toward them with his son, Tyler, tagging along beside him. Tyler was almost fourteen and still fighting that ornery cowlick that topped his red hair. Grace leaned forward, clasped him to her, and held him hard until he murmured in her ear, "I can't breathe, Granny Grace."
She laughed then and released him. In loving Bob she had gained a whole new surrogate family and a grandson.
"You look like you feel icky, Granny Grace," Tyler said.
"I'm hot, but it will pass. Everyone will be gone soon, and I'll take a nice, cool shower."
"I could get you a cold cloth for your head," Tyler said.
The Craines Alma, Frank, and one of their sons, Timmie strode toward them. "Thanks for the eatin's. You take care now. Anything we can do, y'all just call us," Alma said.
Alma, the Cove Road gossip, the one who had most snubbed them, was eager now to be friends.
"Thank you all for coming," Grace said, clasping Alma's outstretched hand.
Copyright © 2004 by Joan Medlicott