In the wake of a tragedy that tore her life down to the foundations, Dr. Alison McAdams has lost her way. So when she’s summoned to Napa to care for her ailing father, she’s not sure she has anything to offer him—or anyone else.
What Ali finds in Northern California wine country is a gift—an opportunity to rest, and distance from her painful memories. Most unexpectedly, she finds people who aren’t afraid of her grief or desperate for her to hurry up and move on.
As Ali becomes part of her father’s community, makes new friends of her own, and hears the stories of a generation who survived the Second World War, she begins to find hope again. In a quest to discover the truth about another woman’s lost love, she sets off on a journey across oceans and deep into history. And in making sense of that long-ago tragedy, Ali is able to put together the broken pieces of her heart and make new choices that are right for her.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Penguin Group|
|File size:||669 KB|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
For over a year following Andrew’s death I showed up and performed and executed perfectly.
I handled that horrible year and the next few months so well that I’d begun to think the worst was behind me.
And then I got the note.
I’d left the office on my lunch, dashing to the Nordstrom at the Scottsdale Fashion Square for a pair of shoes for Dad. He has a birthday coming up in late June and I’m hoping to see him Memorial Day weekend. I’d meant to go north for Easter but Dr. Morris took time off and I was needed. Dad was fine with it but I think he’d appreciate a new pair of Clarks, even if he doesn’t do as much walking in his retirement home.
I’d zipped into the shopping mall, made the purchase, and was hurrying back to my car, pleased that I’d still have time for a quick bite of lunch at the office before my first afternoon appointment, when I noticed the scrap of paper on my windshield, pinned to the glass by the windshield wiper. I tugged on the paper, sliding it free and reading the blue scrawl.
Dumbfounded, I set the paper shopping bag at my feet and flipped the note over. The back was blank and I read the scribble of blue ink again.
“Asshole” had been underlined.
The A was huge. The two s’s looked almost like z’s.
For a moment I thought it was a joke, or a mistake. And then I was hit by a wave of nausea.
It wasn’t a joke.
It was just a mean note.
Sickened, I crumpled it up and shoved it into my purse. I don’t know why I put it in my purse but I was suddenly and deeply ashamed.
My car was on the white line, on the passenger side. Normally I park exactly between the painted lines, but when I pulled in the car on my left was a little bit over, and so I parked and dashed into the store.
Driving back to the office, I mentally reviewed my parking job. I was on the line. I probably was parked too close to the car on my right. But I wasn’t over the line. And the car on my left was crowding me. My car isn’t a big car. It’s not as if I drive a big SUV. I slid out of my driver side without dinging the car next to me.
Maybe I shouldn’t have parked there.
Maybe I should have kept looking for a spot.
I’m still obsessing—rationalizing—my choices as I reach the office. I can’t let it go. I don’t know why I have to defend myself. The person who wrote the note was rude. It was a rude note by a rude person. Let it go.
I try as I park—carefully.
I try as I enter the modern marble and glass building with the tinted windows and open the door to Morris Dental & Associates, catching a whiff of the distinctive smell unique to dentist offices. The odor wafts from the back. It’s a mix of chemicals. Formo-creasol. Cresatin. Eugenol. Acrylic Monomer.
Oh, and teeth.
The office is cold, chilled to sixty-seven degrees, the temperature Dr. Morris prefers for his own comfort. He doesn’t like being warm when he works. His hands are steadier, his concentration better, when it’s cool, and it is his office.
Normally I don’t smell the chemicals but I do now. Maybe it’s the shock of the note, a shock I can’t shake.
I’m still unsettled as I open my yogurt in the staff room. But I can’t take a bite. Instead I hold my yogurt and spoon and stand at the window staring out at the taupe and gold Camelback Mountain.
Learn to park. Asshole.
“Dr. McAdams, you’ve a patient in exam room three,” Natalie, one of the practice’s two dental assistants, announces from the staff room door.
I thank her and put the yogurt back into the refrigerator. My legs feel funny as I walk. Like I’m walking in wet cement. If Andrew were here right now he’d make a joke and tease me about being an asshole and my horrible driving skills, and I’d laugh and it’d be okay. But he’s not here because he’d rather be dead. He’s not here—
I enter the sunlit exam room holding my breath, keeping the pain bottled inside as I glance at the chart on the counter. Leah Saunders. I quickly wash my hands, and face her, forcing a smile. “I’m Dr. McAdams. How are you today, Leah?”
“I was just telling your dental hygienist that I hate the smell of dentist offices.” Leah is immaculately dressed and groomed, the blue paper bib covering an ivory silk top that only accents her fit frame. Her dark blonde hair, carefully highlighted and blown out, frames a face that is smooth for her age. I know by her chart that she’s early forties but she appears years younger. “The smell makes me sick,” she adds.
I give her a quick, reassuring nod. “I hear that a lot.” The smell doesn’t bother me. It never has. Andrew never liked it, but for him, it was the smell of his childhood. He grew up visiting his dad at the office, working here in the summers.
“I’ve never understood my fear. It seems so irrational. It’s not like I’m going to die here—” She breaks off, laughs nervously, her fingers twisting in her necklace. “Right?”
“Nope. No dying. No suffering. It’s going to be okay.” I roll closer to her side on my stool.
“That’s what my husband says. He doesn’t understand my fear. He doesn’t know why I make such a big deal out of it. I tried to explain that it’s the smell that makes me nervous. The moment I open the door to the office it hits me—and I want to run.”
“But you’re here.”
“Only because my tooth hurts so much. The pain just keeps getting worse, and it’s not going away anymore, not even with Advil.”
“Here.” She touches her upper right jaw. “It aches all the time now.”
“Let me take a look.”
Her eyes meet mine, the hazel irises bright. She’s terrified.
I touch her arm. “It’s going to be all right.”
“I don’t know why I’m so scared.”
“There is nothing to be afraid of. I’m not going to hurt you. I promise.”
“But what if the tooth has to come out? What if I need a root canal—”
“Root canals get a bad rap. They don’t usually hurt any more than when you have a filling replaced.”
“I don’t like those, either.”
“The good news is that we can fix this. Whatever the issue, we’ll get it sorted out, and you won’t have to live with more pain. The worst pain is always before you come in.” I hold her gaze, firm, confident. Dentistry isn’t torture. We help people. We don’t make it worse.
Fortunately, it doesn’t look as if Leah needs a root canal yet. She’s come in time. Natalie returns to assist with the procedure.
I’m just wrapping up with Leah when Helene from the front desk appears in the doorway, letting me know I have someone on the phone holding.
“Can you take a message?” I ask, checking my annoyance at the interruption. Leah is the last person I want to feel rushed.
Helene grimaces. “Apparently it’s an emergency.” She drops her voice. “Your dad.”
He’s all I have left. Mom’s gone. Andrew’s gone. He’s it. I apologize and excuse myself, taking the call in the staff room. “Dad?”
“I’m fine,” he answers brusquely, his voice unsteady with the Parkinson’s quaver. “Took a little fall but nothing too serious.”
“You wouldn’t call if it weren’t serious,” I retort. My dad and I aren’t very close. My mom and I were. My mom and I were thick as thieves. I got into dentistry to impress my dad. It didn’t work.
“It’s not serious,” he repeats, even as I hear voices in the background. Two women talking. He’s not alone. “Just a little fall, but they wanted me to let you know. A broken wrist and a couple scrapes, nothing much.”
“I’ll come up.”
“I want to.”
“There’s nothing you can do.”
“You’re my dad.”
“Doesn’t make sense to lose work time.”
“It doesn’t make sense to lose you.”
“I’ll be here when you have vacation time—”
“I’d like to take that vacation time now.”
He says nothing but the silence is tense. I hold my breath, battling my frustration, bottling the confusion. He doesn’t want me. I don’t understand it. It was easier when Mom was alive. She was our buffer. She made us a family. “You’re important to me,” I say quietly. “I want to come see you. I need to come see you. Please.”
The silence stretches again.
“Fine,” he says, exasperation in his voice.
I tell myself not to be hurt. There’s no point in being sensitive. This is Dad. It’s how he’s always been. It’s how he’ll always be. “I’ll fly up tonight, and if I take tomorrow off, that will give us a three-day weekend.”
“Your front office will have to reschedule.”
“It happens when there’s an emergency.”
“Alison, I don’t want a fuss.”
“That’s good, Dad, because I don’t fuss. That’s not my style.” My tone is brisk. I mastered professional crispness long before I graduated from dental school. It was the only way to survive life with my father. Now I’m grateful for the training. Grateful I’m not easily crushed.
He sighs. “No. It’s not your style. I’ll give you that.”
High praise indeed. “I need to book a flight, Dad, and I’m not sure when I’ll land, but I imagine it’ll be late, so plan on seeing me tomorrow. If not for breakfast, then by lunch.”
“Don’t rush. Tomorrow morning is duplicate bridge.”
“How will you hold the cards?”
I’m sure he will. Dad is remarkably resourceful. “Do I need to talk to a nurse? Is there someone with you waiting to speak to me?”
“No. I think I’ve handled it just fine.”
“Then I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“You know where to find me.”
I need a second to compose myself after the call. I use the time to make a list of all the things I need to do. Clear my schedule. Book a flight. Get a rental car or shuttle to the house. Maybe I should drive. Twelve hours driving. Too long. Book a flight. Get a car. Make sure I pack Dad’s new shoes.
In the next exam room I see the mother in the corner first, and then the little boy in the exam chair, blue paper bib around his neck. His eyes are huge. His lower lip is trembling. He’s afraid.
“I’m Dr. Alison McAdams,” I say, introducing myself before washing my hands at the sink. “But most of my patients call me Dr. Ali.”
The boy says nothing. The mother gives me a grim smile. Maybe she had to take time off work, or maybe she has children at home, or maybe she’s not a fan of dentists.
I dry my hands on a paper towel and sit down on my stool and roll towards the child. “What’s your name?” I ask.
He glances at his mom, brown eyes huge.
“Tell her,” the mother says.
“Brett,” he whispers.
“James,” his mother adds. “That’s our last name. We’ve been patients of Dr. Morris for years.”
I register the mother’s comment. That means she knows me. Or she knows about Andrew and me. Or just knows about Andrew.
“Brett James,” I repeat, forcing myself to focus. He’s little. Can’t be much older than five. “That’s a nice name. And how old are you?”
“And that’s a good age.”
He just looks at me. I keep smiling at him even though I suddenly want to cry and I never cry at work. Never. Ever.
“So what are we doing today?” I ask, even though I already know. I glanced at the chart on the counter even as I was washing my hands.
“I have a cavity,” Brett whispers.
“Well, I’ll fix that up for you.”
“Will it hurt?”
“No.” I pat his arm. He’s warm. His arm is small. I want to protect him. When you are a child you have no control. Everyone makes all the decisions for you. I can’t imagine not having any control.
“Are you a kindergartener?” I ask.
He shakes his head.
“He’s going to be,” his mom answers from her chair in the corner. “In September. He’s in pre-K now.”
“You’re going to love kindergarten,” I say.
He shakes his head. “I have to wear a uniform. And a vest.” His sadness has changed to despair. “I hate vests.”
“Why do you have to wear vests?”
“Because it’s a Catholic school,” his mother says. “The children wear vests on Mass days.”
Brett looks at her and then me. “I’d rather wear my Ninja Turtle shirt,” he whispers.
“I would, too,” I whisper back.
He smiles at me but there are tears in his eyes.
I smile back because if I don’t smile, I’ll start crying.
Brett leaves the office with thick cotton tucked between his cheek and gum and a shy smile for me.
He has beautiful eyes, golden brown with long black lashes.
Andrew had lovely lashes, too. So long they didn’t look real. I used to touch them lightly, wonderingly. What did you do to get eyelashes like these?
And then suddenly I remember the note.
Learn to park.
And I want Andrew back. I want him to make fun of the note. And me. I want him to make things better. He knew how to make everything better . . .
Suddenly I can’t be here, in this office, anymore. I can’t handle the frigid temperature or the whir of the drill, or the sweet eugenol with its clove oil scent.
Even though I have yet another patient waiting for me, I walk down the hall, out the door into the warm Arizona sunshine, squeezing my hands into fists, digging my nails into the skin to keep from making a sound.
My heart is broken.
It will never be the same.
None of it will ever be the same again.
• • •
Dr. Andrew Morris finds me outside. Andrew, my Andrew, was named after his father. My Andrew is the third. His father, the founder of the dental practice, is the second. Andrew Morris the first wasn’t a dentist. I don’t know what he did but he isn’t spoken of in hushed, reverent tones. He isn’t spoken of at all.
“Helene mentioned something about your father taking a spill,” Dr. Morris says, hands buried in his white coat. Unlike the new generation of dentists that prefer suits and ties and collared shirts, Dr. Morris still wears a white buttoned coat over his shirt. He’s old-school, and proud of it. “Is he okay?”
I nod once. “A fractured wrist. He says he’s fine.”
“Are you okay?”
I nod again, more slowly, but no, I’m not okay. I’m not sure what I am.
For a moment there is just silence. I want to go see my dad. Not Memorial Day weekend—two weeks from now—but now. I want to go now. Tonight. I need to. I need someone and something that is mine.
“I think I should go see him,” I say quietly. “I would feel better if I could check on him personally.”
Dr. Morris hesitates for just a moment and then nods. “That’s probably a good idea. When would you go?”
“I’d like to go tonight—” I break off, take a quick deep breath. “I’ll be back in the office Monday morning. It’ll mean cancelling the rest of the week’s appointments.”
“I could probably take some of them.”
“You don’t mind?”
He shakes his head. “It’s good that you’re heading up to see your dad. But maybe you shouldn’t rush back. Maybe you need more time up there. Maybe you need more time for you.”
“I’ll schedule some time this summer—”
“I don’t know that you can wait.”
I lift my head and look up into Dr. Morris’ face. His expression is focused, his eyes sad. We are all still sad. I’ve secretly begun to think we, who loved Andrew, will never be happy again. His father, his mother, me . . . we’re functioning, but not living, not the way one wants to live.
A lump fills my throat, making it ache as I swallow.
“Do you need a ride to the airport?” Dr. Morris asks, changing the subject.
I shake my head, even though I haven’t actually thought that far. Can’t seem to think clearly right now. There’s so much white noise in my head. And this unbearable weight on my heart.
“What time is your flight?”
“I haven’t booked it yet.”
“I imagine then that you probably won’t see your father until tomorrow.”
“I’m hoping to join him for lunch.”
“That’ll be nice.”
“When was the last time you saw him?”
I have to think. Since I didn’t make it Easter it was . . . it was . . . “Christmas.”
It’s been too long. I’ve not been an attentive daughter. I should have been up to see him several times since. But Napa isn’t home, and his senior retirement home isn’t where I want him to be. After mom died, I thought he’d want to come live with me, in Scottsdale. He didn’t, choosing to move into the retirement home instead. It’s not close or convenient for my work. I’d give up my practice here, but that would leave Dr. Morris alone.
I look up into Andrew Morris II’s eyes and see things I don’t want to see.
He misses Andrew terribly. Andrew was his son, his heir. The future. Not just in life, but the next generation to run the dental practice. From the time Andrew was a boy, he was going to be part of the Scottsdale practice. It was going to be Morris and Morris.
Instead it’s Morris & Associates.
I’m the associate. Andrew’s fiancée.
• • •
I’m able to book a flight out while still at the office, and once home, I quickly pack for two weeks. Dr. Morris is taking me off the books for the first half of June as well, but I can’t imagine being gone that long. I’m not someone who likes to sit around. I prefer working. I need to be active.
Andrew used to say I loved nothing more than a long to-do list. I’d make a face at him, rolling my eyes. But he was right. I’m most comfortable being busy, making plans, having places to go, even if it’s just to the grocery store. I have an ongoing list for that, too.
I’m all about the doing. And now Andrew is gone and I’m cracked. Broken. So broken I can’t even make a single list.
Don’t know what to do anymore.
Don’t know where to go.
• • •
The shuttle picks me up on time but traffic is terrible on the way to Phoenix International Airport. I’m panicking that we’re not going to get to the airport before they start boarding. It shouldn’t be this long of a drive. I close my eyes, stressed. Eyes closed, I focus on just breathing.
Inhale to a count of ten. Exhale to a count of ten. Inhale . . .
As I breathe my thoughts drift to Dad. I have his shoes in my suitcase. I hope he’ll like them. I hope I got the right size. I’m pretty confident he’s a size eleven. Or a ten and a half. Maybe he’s a ten and a half, and in that case the elevens would be too big, particularly with his balance issues.
In the past I could have texted my mom and she’d text me back right away, giving me his size. She was good about getting back to me right away. Always. Mom was a former teacher turned principal. She died five months after Andrew. Had an aneurysm in August. It happened in her sleep. So glad she didn’t suffer. But nobody saw that one coming, either.
To lose both Mom and Andrew in less than six months . . . Still trying to wrap my head around life. How it happens. How it ends.
I don’t even feel as if I’m grieving. I’m not sure what grieving is supposed to feel like. I’ve no one to talk to about this. Certainly can’t discuss it with Dad and I don’t have friends who have lost anyone other than a grandparent yet, and now I’ve lost my fiancé and my mom in short order.
Maybe the fact that I am just here, present, but not able to feel a damn thing is grief.
If that’s the case, I’m good with it. I don’t want to feel more pain. And being numb has actually allowed me to be a very good dentist.
God knows patients are nervous enough coming in as it is. They don’t need me weeping as I drill and fill their teeth.
• • •
The airport is cordoned off when I arrive. The shuttle can’t even get close to the terminal entrance. I pay and grab my bags and join the crowd outside. Police empty the terminal and everyone mills about the parking area while a bomb squad goes through an abandoned backpack found inside.
A businessman next to me said all flights will be delayed hours, if they even go out tonight. No flight has been allowed to land for the past hour.
I take this in without comment, watching the swarming police and SWAT team, but not seeing the SWAT team. Rather I see Andrew. I’m back there on that last day.
I’d gone to the store to get ice cream.
That’s where I was when he did it.
The police, his parents, his sisters, his friends, they all wanted to know what had happened that week, that day, in the hours leading up to Andrew’s death.
Everyone had the same question—had there been a fight? Were you two quarreling?
And then immediately the other questions: Was he unhappy? Had he expressed concerns about the wedding? Were there money problems?
No, no, and there is always debt and bills after college and dental school, and we had just bought our first home so things were really tight, but not the kind of tight finances that make one want to die, the kind of tight that means one must work, and save, and plan.
For the record, Andrew and I never fought. You had to know Andrew to understand. He wasn’t argumentative. There wasn’t a mean or petty bone in his body. He was kind and thoughtful. Sweet. Funny.
He’d be goofy just to make me laugh.
He loved to make me laugh. I loved it when he did.
We were good together. We fit. His mom used to say we were two halves of a whole, and I agreed.
So why would the love of my life take his own life?
And just weeks before our wedding?
I don’t know.
I’ve spent the past year analyzing the last year we had. I’ve pulled the months apart, examined each week, each day, and I’m still no closer to an answer. What went wrong? And when did it go wrong? And why did I—of all people—not know?
I would have done anything for him. I would have been there—
Hell. I was there.
We lived together. We worked together. We drove to work together. We trained together. Worked out together. We were together pretty much twenty-four seven.
And it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t enough . . . not to keep him here, anchored to earth, to life.
He would have rather died than be with me.
A muffled boom comes from across the street.
The bomb squad has blown up the backpack. False alarm. There was nothing inside.
People around me cheer.
I’ve been told it’s wrong—selfish, narcissistic—to make Andrew’s death about me, but what else could I do? I was his partner, his lover, his best friend. I was going to be his wife and the mother of his children. If he was so unhappy, why couldn’t he tell me? Why wouldn’t he?
Why couldn’t he give me a chance to help him? I would have.
Now all I’m left with is that last day.
It had been a perfect day.
We’d just recently moved into our new house. We’d gone for a long run that morning, waking early to beat the desert heat. It was a good run, seven miles, which was a lot for me, but nothing for Andrew, since he was already running marathons. I’d agreed to run my first marathon after our honeymoon so we’d been training together, getting me used to the distance.
After running we worked on the house, and then walked to Fashion Square where we ate a late lunch—or early dinner, depending on how you’d call it—at the Yardhouse, our favorite place since we both loved the ahi dishes. Then we walked home, holding hands, talking about the wedding and the future and a couple hours later, I had a craving for ice cream, and I ran to the store.
So why did he do it?
Why, when it had been a good day? Why make me be the one to discover him in the entry, hanging from our new reproduction Spanish Colonial Revival chandelier, to match our authentic Spanish Colonial Revival dream home?
Why take one of the best days of my life and make it the worst day?
Love is supposed to be patient and kind.
The flight to Oakland ends up being delayed nearly three hours, but it looks like we’re still going to be able to get out tonight.
I’m sitting by the gate flipping through one of the professional journals I never have time to read when Dad calls. He’s heard about the bomb scare through CNN and he’s phoning me to see if I’ve been blown up. Those are, mind you, his exact words. As a little girl I was baffled by my dad’s dry humor. I’ve finally come to understand it.
“No, Dad, I’m fine. A lone backpack was blown to bits, but everything else is intact.”
“That’s it?” He sounds disappointed.
“That’s it. Well, and my flight’s delayed a couple hours, but all the excitement is over and I’ll still be there in the morning.”
“Maybe this is a sign that you’re not supposed to come.”
“Maybe you need to just embrace my visit.”
“I just think it’s a mistake for you to take time off work because I made a mistake and tripped over my own big feet.”
“Me not coming up would be the mistake. And humor me, Dad. This way I can pretend I’m a dutiful daughter.”
“So this is really about you.”
I answer as sweetly as I can. “Did you ever doubt it?”
He barks a laugh. “Now you sound like your mom.”
I smile, pleased. He doesn’t laugh often. “She was the one who taught me to kill ’em with kindness.”
“As long as you don’t kill them in your chair.”
“That would be bad,” I agree.
“So what time do you land in Oakland tonight?”
“Need a ride from the airport?”
“You offering to get me?” I retort, knowing he’s given up driving.
“I could probably do all right.”
“And whose car would you steal?”
“Mom’s car is still at the house. Haven’t sold it yet.”
“What are you hanging on to it for?”
“It’s a nice new Audi. Why sell it?”
“Because you don’t need it and it’s just going to go down in value the longer you hang on to it.”
“So why don’t you take it?”
“I have a car.”
“An old one. Your mom’s car is less than two years old—”
“I can’t . . . drive her car . . .” My voice fades away. I’m suddenly tired. I don’t have words to explain. Dad wasn’t supposed to be in the senior home yet. Not for a couple more years. Mom wasn’t supposed to be gone. She was the young one. “I mean, I will, once I’m there. I’ve got a shuttle reserved to get to the house. Is the key still under the flower pot on the porch?”
“Yes. And you remember the code for the alarm?”
“My birth date backwards.”
“That’s it. There won’t be any food in the house but all the utilities are still on, and things should be clean. I’m paying for a housekeeper each month, so it better be clean.”
“I’ll let you know.”
“So I’ll see you at lunch.”
“Yes.” I hesitate, wanting to say more, but not knowing what to say. There is so much pressure in my chest. It’s heavy and immense. The weight makes it hard to breathe. “I’ve missed you.”
Silence stretches. I don’t think he’s going to say anything. And then he surprises me. “It’ll be good to see you,” he says gruffly.
A lump fills my throat. “It’s going to be a treat.”
We say good-bye, and I hang up feeling better.
Because I don’t remember what safe feels like anymore.
• • •
The woman seated next to me on the plane has two very large carry-on bags that are bursting at the seams. She struggles to make both fit—one above us and one beneath the seat in front of her. I pretend not to notice as she repeatedly shoves her platform sandal into the top and side of the carry-on at her feet to make it fit beneath the seat. It takes quite a few kicks and jabs before it’s under.
“There,” she says, exhaling and sitting back.
She looks to be about my age. She has dark curly hair, brown eyes, and tons of freckles. She also has very straight white teeth. I always notice teeth.
For the first hour of the flight we don’t speak, but then during the beverage service somehow the handoff of the plastic cup between flight attendant and the woman to my right doesn’t go well, and the diet Sprite spills on me. The flight attendant hands over napkins and pours another drink while my seatmate apologizes profusely and dabs at my tray and leg. I tell her I’m fine, but she keeps dabbing and apologizing and in the end, we start talking, sharing about where we are each going and why.
Her name is Diana and she’s a florist, heading back to Napa after a weekend home in Phoenix to see her mom for a belated Mother’s Day visit. “I couldn’t make it for Mother’s Day,” she says. “Way too much work. I’d been warned that it’s one of the busiest weekends of the year but wasn’t prepared.”
It turns out she’s still in her first year owning her own business, taking over the small florist shop in downtown Napa last fall. She does everything, but specializes in weddings and special events.
“How did you decide to become a florist?” I ask. “Did you study it in school?”
“Nope. I always thought I was going to go into medicine and then during college decided dentistry would be a good fit. I’d even taken the DAT and had applied to dental schools—got into two, too—but at the last moment, I couldn’t do it. I was sick of school and couldn’t imagine being stuck inside all day.”
I drain my water and look at her. “I’m a dentist.”
“Do you like it?”
I nod. “I think I’m good at it.”
“That’s so cool. Where did you go to dental school?”
“University of Washington.”
Her eyes light. “I went there as an undergrad. Go Huskies!”
“What did you study?”
“Psych.” She laughs. “And boy it comes in handy when working with brides, moms, and wedding planners. People really do go crazy when it comes to planning a wedding.” She glances at my left hand, checking for rings. “Are you married?”
I stopped wearing Andrew’s ring on the one year anniversary of his death. Every now and then I put it on, but it doesn’t feel right anymore. “No. You?”
“Men are too much work.” Her eyes crinkle as she smiles. “But I could change my mind if I met the right one.”
We end up talking the rest of the flight to Oakland, and as the plane touches down and taxis to the gate, Diana struggles to get her bag out from beneath the seat and then riffles through it for her wallet. She hands me her card just as we reach the gate. Diana Martin. A Napa Bouquet.
“Wait,” she says, taking it back and scribbling her cell number across the top. “That way you can call me direct.”
I pocket her card and give Diana mine. She studies my name and the address of Dr. Morris’ office. “That’s a nice area. Is it a new practice?”
“No. It’s been around for about thirty years.”
“That’s awesome. Good for you.”
We gather our things as the seat belt light goes off. Everyone bolts to their feet but there is nowhere to go yet. We stand in the aisle making small talk after Diana frees her second bag from the overhead.
“So how long will you be up in Napa?” she asks.
“A couple of weeks,” I answer.
“Well, if you get bored or want to head out one night, give me a shout. My shop’s in downtown Napa. I’d be happy to meet up for a drink or dinner.”
• • •
Thirty minutes later I’ve got my bags. I’m the only one tonight in the back of the big passenger van. The driver is quiet, and I check my phone for messages—there are none. My life for the last year has been work and work. It’ll be good to use these next few weeks in Napa to relax and rest and figure out how to be a little more social again.
I did enjoy talking to Diana on the plane. Chatting with her made the flight pass quickly, and I liked her. She was fun. Effervescent. I’d forgotten what positive girl energy feels like.
Need more of that. Didn’t really have that in dental school, either. There was so much pressure. That first year, especially . . .
But I don’t want to think about dental school. Don’t want to think about Dr. Morris. Don’t want to think about anything at all.
Staring out the van window, I gaze up into the sky. The young moon is three quarters full. Waxing gibbous.
I only know this because Andrew loved the moon. He loved the stars and the night sky and owned a telescope from an early age. In the desert you can see the stars better than you can in a city. The sky is bigger, and the stars are brighter. Andrew loved the sky. He, my independent Aquarius, wanted to make the world a better place. He was full of ideas and change. He had such a good heart, and even better intentions.
I don’t understand how he could just go . . . just . . . leave.
I rub my eyes with my fist. Can’t do this now. Not sure I should do this anytime. Can’t keep going to these places in my head and heart. But I don’t know where to go if I don’t go there. Don’t want to lose him. Don’t want to forget him. So afraid that if I let go too much he’ll disappear completely.
And yet he was too good to be forgotten.
Too kind to become nothing.
There must be another way to love. To remember love.
I’m in the hills of Sonoma County now, hills rolling, rising, moonlight whispering to me in slivers and sighs.
I know why Mom and Dad wanted to retire here. It’s beautiful. But it’s too quiet for me tonight. I need a city. I need urgency and energy.
Or at the very least, I need something to do.
• • •
Even though no one lives in the 1910 farmhouse on Poppy Lane, the house isn’t dark when the shuttle pulls up.
It’s almost one thirty but the front porch light is on and two more glow inside, soft yellow lining the edges of the living room curtains. The lights are on timers and every week the housekeeper, who sweeps the front porch and collects the free local community newspaper that lands in the driveway Wednesday afternoons, adjusts the timer so that different lamps turn on and off.
I pay the driver and shoulder my bags and head for the house. It takes me a moment to locate the key and get the alarm off, and then I enter the house, say good night to the moon, and Andrew. I like to think of him happy, there in the sky and stars, and once inside the house I say hello to my mom. I wait to feel her presence but she’s not here. This house never had time to truly become her home, and my footsteps echo on the hardwood floors, the interior hollow and empty.
I walk around, turning on and off lights, chasing away the shadows that linger in a house devoid of people. I take in the furniture that is still new and unlived in, furniture bought for the home that was supposed to be a dream house and never came to anything. I open the refrigerator. It’s cold and empty, save for an open box of baking soda on the top shelf.
Dad should sell the house. And Mom’s car. He should move down to Scottsdale with me and we should become a family again.
I pass through the house a second time, now turning out lights, ending in the master bedroom with the new king bed and new big highboy dresser. The old set with the full bed had been demoted to the guest room, but when Mom died and Dad went to Napa Estates, he took the old master bedroom set with him. It was familiar and he said it felt like Mom.
Mom died so suddenly there were no good-byes.
And Andrew . . . he did say good-bye. He’d kissed me, so very sweetly, before I drove off to get the ice cream.
He didn’t even give me a chance to fight for him.
I had no idea that such a kind man could be so cruel.
• • •
Sunlight pours through the windows waking me. I hadn’t drawn the curtains last night, and I open my eyes, bemused. Everything is foreign. The windows, the light, the pale grass green walls.
And then I remember.
Mom and Dad’s.
I’ve only just woken up but I suddenly want to cry. I want Mom.
And then I can’t do it, can’t bear being sad, thinking thoughts like this. I’m almost thirty. It has to change.
I toss back the Pottery Barn duvet cover with its green-and-white botanical fern print fabric. There are matching towels in the master bath. Dad didn’t take any of them to his new apartment at Napa Estates. He took the old sheets and towels, the ones that he’d shared all those years with Mom. Dad might keep me at arm’s length but I’ve never doubted his loyalty to Mom.
I shower and search the kitchen for coffee. There is none. There is no food in the house at all. Even the Tupperware containers of flour and sugar and salt are gone. The house is ready to be sold. I have no idea why Dad is hanging on to it.
• • •
I haven’t been to Napa Estates Senior Living since December when I flew up to spend the holidays with Dad. Last December I’d made all these plans for us and our first Christmas without Mom. I’d imagined that Dad would come “home” to the house on Poppy Lane, and we’d have a small, intimate Christmas, the two of us. I’d gone and done a big shop and had even purchased a small tree and decorated it. But when I went to the retirement home I was dismayed by his reaction.
He wasn’t in college and had no desire to go anywhere for “the holidays.” I was welcome to join him for meals and activities at Napa Estates, but there wasn’t going to be this cozy family Christmas. He had no desire for a family Christmas. Not without Mom.
I cried in secret. I was hurt. And confused.
Dad wasn’t the only one who’d lost Mom. I’d lost her, too. And Andrew. I’d lost two people and now it seemed as if I’d lost Dad as well. He didn’t feel any need to be a family with me. He didn’t want or need the traditions. He didn’t want or need the past. I didn’t like his idea of the future . . . not for us.
I still don’t.
As I park at Napa Estates today, it reminds me all over again of a sprawling, swanky country club in the South. The green lawn flanking the columned main “house” is so perfect I’m tempted to see if it’s real. The building’s glossy white paint and pale cedar shingles contrast nicely with the sparkling large multi-paned windows that show the elegant, gleaming lobby, with its high ceiling and pale, low-pile carpet—suitable for both wheelchairs and walkers.
Mom and Dad had looked at a lot of retirement homes in Sonoma County before choosing Napa Estates as their future home. They liked that the facility had a couple tennis courts and a large swimming pool even though they never played tennis and rarely swam. It was the idea of having the facilities there, just as they liked Napa Estates’ dining room, large gym, library, and movie theater, plus the monthly meetings for Bridge Club and Book Club and Wine Club.
Napa Estates wasn’t just a “place” for seniors, but a community. Their brochure boasts that they create a “microcosm of society that brings successful, mature adults together, recognizing their strengths and gifts.” I think the language of the brochure is a little overwritten but back in December I was impressed with how the retirement home has been designed to cater to all stages of senior living—independent living, assisted living, and memory care—with its focus on healthy living. I admire their goal to keep seniors fit, active, and independent for as long as possible. Of course there’s a financial impetus—healthy seniors’ expenses are less than those of seniors with chronic conditions—but there’s also the quality of life issue. Healthy seniors are happier.
Dad is in the independent wing, with a one-bedroom apartment. He has several friends who have two-bedroom apartments so that guests can stay over. Dad didn’t want that. Said he had no one he’d want to stay. I refused to have hurt feelings. Because I’m not sure I’d want to stay over. Dad is fine in three- or four-hour increments, but beyond that, he gets short and sharp. I love him, but don’t enjoy his company when he gets snappy.
Fortunately, despite Parkinson’s, Dad has been able to stay in the independent living wing, but now that he’s had a fall and needs more help, I’m wondering when the staff will want him to move. Where he is now he gets to live with his own furniture, but apparently that changes in assisted living. I don’t know the specifics. I only know that this morning, in an empty turn-of-the-century farmhouse, I became determined to convince my father that he should move to Arizona to be with me.
• • •
It takes me ten minutes to find Dad after arriving at Napa Estates. It’s a big place and he’s not in his apartment, or the Game Room, or the restaurant. I eventually track him down in the Reading Room where he’s not reading but playing bridge with another gentleman and two ladies. Dad is resting his hand of cards on his splint, using a Scrabble tile holder to keep the cards from sliding down, and drawing and discarding cards with his good hand.
I knew he’d figure out how to play one-handed. He’s always enjoyed bridge, but he’s become very serious and competitive since arriving here, playing two to three days a week now.
In between deals he introduces me to Edie Stephens, his partner; they are playing against Bob and Rose Dearborn, a married couple.
I’ve barely been introduced before Edie raps the cards against the table. She’s not happy with the interruption. The game isn’t over.
Everyone quickly quiets and focuses on the game as Bob deals the next hand.
I don’t remember any of these people from Christmas, although Edie looks familiar. Or maybe it’s just because she’s very old and has that dour look of older women in early photography. Unsmiling, pursed lips, flat stare.
She glances up from her cards, and her gaze meets mine. Her eyes narrow ever so slightly and her expression makes me feel as if I haven’t quite measured up somehow. I smile at her. She doesn’t smile back. And perhaps it’s impudent, but I just keep smiling. There’s no reason for her to be so unfriendly. It’s my father after all, and I’ve just dropped everything to rush up here and be with him.
But she’s already dismissed me and is focused on her cards.
I get a chair and pull it towards the table, sitting just behind Dad so I can see his cards and follow the game.
Edie shoots me another sharp look as I settle into my seat, her eyes bright blue against her pale, thin skin. Her wispy white hair is twisted back in a severe knot. She must be in her late eighties, but as I soon discover, she plays a mean game of bridge, making calls coolly, crisply, not a hint of a quaver in her voice.
I started to learn bridge years ago when Andrew and I were in dental school so we could play with my parents, giving us a pleasant way to spend time together, but Andrew didn’t enjoy the game—it’s not a game you learn overnight if you want to play well—so we stopped our lessons. But I’d grown up listening to my parents play on weekends with their friends—card tables up in the living room, the clink of ice in cocktail glasses, and the murmur of voices as they made their bids. And even though I don’t know how to really play myself, just sitting in one of the club chairs behind Dad, flipping through a magazine, I am lulled by the sound and rhythm of the game. The dealer, the opener, the responder . . .
My mother always laughed when she was the dummy.
I loved her for that. I loved that she was so warm and easy. She had an ego, but it was about education and excellence and schools. Never herself.
Now Dad, partnered by the formidable Edie, is the dummy, but he doesn’t seem to mind. As the game progresses it’s obvious he’s fond of Edie, almost deferential. But then, he does like winning, and they are winning now. From the quiet, sporadic banter around the table, to the winning of tricks, it’s clear Dad and Edie are the team to beat.
Thirty minutes later the game finally ends, and Dad rises carefully, using a cane to assist him to his feet. Bob offered an arm but Dad wouldn’t accept the help.
Now Dad leads the way to lunch, walking slightly ahead of me, working the cane as if an aggressive sea captain on the deck of his ship.
He’s thinner than when I last saw him, noticeably thinner, but his mood is ebullient after the win. His voice isn’t steady but it’s impossible to miss his confidence. “Bob and Rose arrived in March and everybody started saying they were the best bridge players at the Estates. But that was before Edie and I started playing together on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
“That makes you happy.”
“It’s fun to win.”
What People are Saying About This
Praise for the novels of Jane Porter
“Porter writes with genuine warmth and quiet grace about the everyday problems all women face.”—Chicago Tribune
“[Porter] understands the passion of grown-up love…Smart, satisfying.”—Robyn Carr
“Porter writes with honesty, warmth, and compassion.”—Library Journal
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Jane Porter is an all-time favorite author! She really stepped out here and wrote something different. She didn't stray from her love to tell the "story" of the strong, female character; really the strong woman who has a story and something to overcome or "get through". She doesn't gloss over and make it all "ok". She really digs deep and you will feel for Ali and Edie. I love that the story is told from two different view points and involves events from the past. I love the historical side of Edie's character. She's not just some sweet, old lady. She has a story and a tough shell that seemingly few can crack open. Although I wanted Craig and Ali's story to progress here, I absolutely respect Jane for keeping that side out of the story and keeping it about the women here. The stories of the male characters here are really side-bar to Ali and Edie. That being said, it gives me a tiny bit of hope that perhaps Craig will still get his story in another of Jane's novels. Buy this book and savor every word and every emotion. You can't go wrong here! :)
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings Alison McAdams is a dentist and always thought she wanted to be one. She found her match at dental school and just before they are to wed tragedy struck - won't spoil this one for you. She escapes to Napa to visit her father and hopefully re center herself. I loved that this was an interesting twist on dual narrative with a contemporary storyline and a historical storyline. Alison is the contemporary storyline while a "neighbor" of her father provides the historical storyline. Although Edie is contemporary she lived through an interesting time in Berlin and it was so interesting to see their storylines cross and intersect.
Jane Porter treats her audience to a good read in her latest novel, It’s You. Alison (Ali) McAdams is the ‘it girl’ in It’s You (no pun intended). She is a successful dentist. She loves her work. She is bright, easy on the eyes...lives in glorious Scottsdale, Arizona. When the sudden derailment of her happily ever after rocks her world, however, ‘it’ is soon replaced with ‘lost.’ How could she know when she went out to pick up ice cream that her return home would be a greeting of her fiancé Andrew swinging from the chandelier—the end result of his successful suicide mission. Compound the death of Andrew with the recent passing of her mother and Ali is grateful her Dad is still alive; albeit their relationship isn’t the greatest. He lives in Napa in an assisted living facility. When Ali is summoned to California by her father for a visit, it was perfect planetary alignment. Call it coincidence, but it seems Ali’s business partner insists (mandates) she take a break around the same time. Once in Napa, Ali begins to understand the full depths of her sorrow and fears she doesn’t have the strength of facing her future without Andrew by her side. Unbeknownst to Ali, brusque and cantankerous Edie is about to enter her life and with her, she brings the prospect of hope and healing for Ali. I’ve not had the pleasure of reading any of Ms. Porter’s previous work. However, I will say It’s You is a great introduction. Porter has a strong familiarity and connection with her first person narrative style and it resonates across the pages. Her main character, Alison (Ali) McAdams, is believable in that her story is relatable: true love found, true love lost and all that is left is the painful clean-up of emotional wreckage. After reading It’s You, I wanted to know more about Ms. Porter. As I often do with many authors I review, I want to learn more about the author to understand what inspires them to write what they write. I happened upon a nugget of a YouTube interview. Ms. Porter was posed with the question of (and I’m paraphrasing, here) ‘...what’s your winning formula...’ to which she answered to near perfection by explaining the reality that not everyone is going to like your work. There are naysayers as much as there are undying fans. The object is to know the audience YOU are writing for; stay true to your audience and go for it. Having such clear vision enables the writer to sit down and focus solely on the solid construction of a good story. I’d venture to guess this was how It’s You was born - a definite ‘must include in the beach bag’ summer read! I look forward to reading some of the author's earlier titles (and certainly her next novel). Congratulations Ms. Porter! Well done. Quill says: This is a story with depth in that it has great pace and solid plot - the perfect formula for a good read!
Porter brings us a lovely story of being lost and not even knowing we need to find ourselves until we are well on the way to doing just that. When Ali's father falls, she finds she needs to go to him, make sure he's really doing okay - losing her fiancé and mother within a year, he's all she has left of family. Her boss, and the man who was supposed to be her father-in-law, strongly suggests that she take her time and not rush back - actually spend time with her father. She finds a new friend, and helps out in her flower shop. She spends time with her father, and meets his friends. She meets a handsome man, but feels she's not ready to move on. One of her father's friends, a seemingly rigid woman in her 90's, intrigues Ali, and they begin a tenuous friendship. Edie lived through WWII - an American in Europe during the War. Ali goes to find Edie's Germany - but finds so much more.
It’s You is another hit from Jane Porter! I have yet to find a book of hers I didn’t love. I am always transported directly to where Jane’s stories take place. Ali’s story of loss and grief her mother and fiancé immediately made me feel for her. She needs to find herself and heal but is limited by working for her deceased fiancé’s father at his dental practice. When Ali gets a call from her father and needs to go visit him, she could never imagine how much she will change, grow, and heal by spending a few weeks in Napa. This story has love, loss, and friendship in the both likely and unlikely form, and even history! I am not a history buff or even a fan by any means, but when there’s a love story involved and the way Jane tells the story, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the story even more. Never did I imagine I would enjoy story about the second World War in Berlin and old people in a nursing home, but it was a great summer read! Not the typical love story from Jane Porter, but like all of her other stories, I LOVED it!!
Grieving the loss of her mother and untimely death of her fiancé, Dr. Alison McAdams’ life has been turned upside down. Working at the dental practice of her fiance’s father, everything feels off to Ali. This was the practice that her husband was supposed to be a partner of. Her would be husband, if he didn’t commit suicide and leave himself hanging in their foyer for her to find. When Ali learns of her father’s fall and injury to his arm, she uses this opportunity to spend more time with him, but at the same time get away from the painful memories that haunt her in Arizona. But when she goes to Napa, she learns that there is so much about him that she didn’t know. And, as she spends time with him and his friends, she gets a lesson about life that she wasn’t expecting. But it’s the unexpected connection she makes with a cantankerous old woman named Edie that sets Ali on a journey to Berlin to learn more about the history and loss that Edie endured during the war. And, in searching for answers about Edie, Ali learns a bit about herself. And, although she can’t rewrite her past, she can make choices for her future. I have read all of Jane Porter’s women’s fiction novels. Although this had a different feel than her other books, it was just as heartfelt and moving. Her focus on detail, especially her references to Edie’s life during the war, were so raw and honest. You could feel the struggle and emotion in every word she wrote.
I received a Netgalley advance copy in exchange for an honest review. This was a very moving and emotional story. Ali is still grieving the loss of her fiancé who took his own life shortly before their wedding. When she takes some time off work to visit her dad she meets Edie, who is a bit rough around the edges. But Edie and Ali slowly bond over their shared losses, Edie lost her husband in WWII. I loved the characters in this book. And I loved how much we got to learn about Edie's past in Germany and during the war. This is a great story of love and hope and moving on. There are so many opportunities for self-reflection in this book. It was just so very moving and I loved it so much. This is one book that I will re-read again and again. I'm sure there are details I missed the first time through. Ok, after giving it a day or so I had to come back and add to my review. I’m still thinking about this book. The things Edie experienced, and how they had such an effect on Ali. To me it really says a lot about a book’s quality when the book stays with you even after you’ve finished reading it, and this one certainly has.
It's You isn't your normal Jane Porter novel, however it is a really good read. The book centers around two different love story's with tragic endings. Dr Alison McAdams has lost her Fiancée over a year ago but hasn't been able to heal from it. While visiting her fathers retirement community she meets Edie who lived in the middle of the Second World War and fell in love with a member of the German resistance. Ali finds a routine while visiting her father and after hearing Edie's stories she decides to go to Germany, while there she begins to heal from her lost love and realizes she has a lot to live for and a long life to live. After she returns home and goes back to work she starts realizing she was happier being close to her dad. It's you has a lot of history in it which usually isn't for me but I truly enjoyed it. I enjoyed how well written Ali's grief was of losing her love. There was a passion behind it that makes it feel like you are there. I also liked how Ali learned to live through her grief and move on with her life.
It's You by Jane Porter is a strong, very emotional story, that pulls on every emotion that you have as a reader. Jane Porter's great writing style makes it a journey worth taking. Jane Porter has a way of telling a story that draws the reader into the story in a way that we can feel and relive the story just as it is told. I love it that Jane Porter gives us an insight in the life of her "old" characters of her previous books, and how they are doing.
Fantastic read! Definitely one of the most touching books I have read in 2015. I am always amazed at the depth Jane Porter gives her characters and this is no exception. This is really 2 stories (which is done beautifully) in one and about lost love and learning to live again and moving forward. You will care about Ali and Edie and their stories. With Porter's attention to detail, you can visualize what it was like during the war in Germany for Edie. If you are fan of Women's Fiction and Jane Porter, you will find this to be unique and capture your heart and mind and you will want to read it from start to finish without interruptions.
An intriguing story of love, loss and learning to find the strength to move forward. Dr. Alison McAdams has no idea going to Napa to help her ailing father will bring several new friendships that will change her life. One new friend is a cantankerous elderly lady at the retirement home where her father resides. They bond as neither has expected. Edie Stephens’ story spans decades where Ali’s is more recent. Ali lost her fiancé just weeks before their wedding when he decided to take his own life. As Edie’s story is told, I found myself drawn deeper and deeper into her history and can feel her emotions just by the words on the pages. She tells of her first love, Franz, and how their life was during the Second World War. From Arizona, to California’s wine country, to Berlin, this story keeps you on the edge of your seat until the very end. It is a very emotional but very well written story that you won’t want to miss.
I really enjoyed this latest book by Jane Porter. It grabs you by the heart and doesn't let go. Alison is going through the motions of life, not really living or dealing with her grief. When her father has an accident, she goes to help out, only to find he's in a better place emotionally than she is. But while visiting him at the retirement community, she learns a lot about him--and herself. A chance bond with a woman there gives her purpose and a reason to live again. In learning this woman's past during WWII, Ali takes a side trip to Berlin, and pieces so much together. This journey for Ali is transcending, and it changes not only her future, but her raison D'être, and opens her heart for possibility. This is a must-read for summer. Jane Porter's writing is compelling and has one hanging on till the end. This book gives hope and light in the darkest of days. I was provided a copy by the publisher for my honest review.
Alison McAdams lost the love of her life. The death of her fiancée has changed her. When she goes to visit her father in Napa, Alison meets a cantankerous woman. As she gets to know Edie Stephens, she learns about love, loss and healing. Both of these women have endured tremendous emotional pain. They never found closure. It's You had me in tears. Jane Porter has written a heart wrenching story. The interwoven storylines merges Edie and her love for a German resistance fighter with Alison's devastation over Andrew's death. The characters are beautifully written. The emotions are raw and powerful. I was pulled into this story immediately. Jane Porter has such enormous talent. She broke my heart and then with great writing healed it. It's you is incredible!