Jillian Thatcher has spent most of her life playing the family peacemaker, caught in the middle between her driven, talented older sister and her younger, spotlight-stealing twin sisters. Then on the night of her engagement party, a cancer diagnosis threatens to once again steal her chance to shine.
Now, Jillian’s on the road to recovery after finally finishing chemo and radiation, but residual effects of the treatment keep her from reclaiming her life as she’d hoped. And just when her dreams might be falling into place, a life-altering revelation from her husband sends her reeling again.
Will Jillian ever achieve her own dreams, or will she always be “just Jillian,” the less-than Thatcher sister? Can she count on her sisters as she tries to step into a stronger place, or are they stuck in their childhood roles forever?
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I had half an hour, no more than that, to get my life in order so my sisters would never suspect how unprepared I was for this morning.
I kicked the back door shut, dumping the plastic grocery bags onto the kitchen counter, easing the ache in my arms. If Johanna were hosting this morning, she'd have something homemade baking in her oven, the appealing aroma filling her immaculate kitchen.
Well, one thing was for certain — I was not Johanna.
Winston's frantic barks sounded from upstairs. Seconds later, he was scampering around my feet, his sudden appearance meaning I'd forgotten to lock him in his kennel. Again.
"Bad dog." A halfhearted reprimand. "You're not supposed to be down here."
I pulled items from the plastic bags. Please don't let me have forgotten anything during my mad dash through the grocery store.
Cream for Johanna's and my coffee — although she was going to have to make do with my Keurig coffeemaker, not French press.
A small box of sugar so Payton could enjoy her coffee with the preferred three heaping spoonfuls per cup.
A premade fruit salad.
Nothing fancy. But at least I wouldn't look like a complete failure.
I suppose to a casual observer, Johanna, Payton, and I — the three remaining Thatcher sisters — appeared successful. And yet, while we might claim certain professional and romantic achievements, we still struggled to find our way as sisters.
At times Pepper's words — the ones Payton had shared with Johanna and me several months ago — seemed more of a taunt than an encouragement.
"Sometimes you just have to forget all the other stuff and remember we're sisters."
Shouldn't a role you acquired at birth be simple? Something you learned to do, along with walking and talking and navigating adolescence?
But then Pepper's death at sixteen splintered our already-precarious bonds.
I selected three mugs from a kitchen cupboard. This was no time to try to unravel the complicated dynamics between me, Johanna, and Payton — not when they'd be here any minute. And not with so much riding on this morning.
It's funny how much hope people put into a cup of coffee.
Social media — Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and Pinterest and even millions of people's text messages around the world — overflow daily with memes and GIFs lauding the miracle qualities of coffee.
Coffee is the gasoline of life.
All I need is coffee and mascara.
Behind every successful person is a substantial amount of coffee.
I drink coffee for your protection.
Drink coffee and do good.
And now ... now coffee would be the glue that bonded the three of us together.
Coffee and a book, if Payton's latest "we should do this!" idea succeeded.
Despite our determination to try to be better sisters — to overcome the damage to our relationships caused by Pepper's death ... and secrets ... and not knowing how to even relax with one another — it was all too easy to succumb to a lifetime of bad habits.
Of course, I knew my given position in the Thatcher sisters, volunteering to have our first Saturday morning book club meeting at my house. There were times I doubted that I'd ever get my "Is everybody happy?" theme song out of my head.
It didn't matter that I had a fulltime job. That I battled unrelenting fatigue. That Geoff and I were starting renovations on our house next week. I laughed and brushed off their multiple "We can do this, Jillian," offers with lighthearted responses of "I'm good. Really. This isn't a problem at all."
And then I'd resorted to a last-minute trip to the grocery store for premade options for this morning's breakfast.
"A girl has to do what a girl has to do" was fast becoming my mantra. Only I was doing less and less and hoping to get by.
Winston scratched at the back door leading from the kitchen to the yard, distracting me from my musings on the power of caffeine mixed with a heavy dose of self-doubt.
I bent down and ruffled his white ears before opening the door. "Sorry to leave you sitting there."
He ran off along the chain-link fence, barking at a squirrel or a bird. No, wait. That was our next-door neighbor, Gianna, out with her toddler.
"Good morning. Sorry about the barking." I stepped outside, snapping my fingers. "Hush, Winston!"
"It doesn't ever bother us." Her daughter knelt, reaching through the fence. "Oh, don't do that, Avery!"
I grabbed Winston's collar, tugging him back beside me. "He won't bite, but he is a nonstop licker."
"We've talked about getting a dog, but right now my hands are full trying to keep up with a two-year-old."
"I can imagine. But she's a cute handful." I checked my watch. Almost nine o'clock. Johanna and Payton would be here anytime now. "I'm sorry. I need to go. My sisters are coming over this morning."
"How fun. I wish I had a sister." Gianna took Avery's hand, helping her stand and brushing off the knees of her jeans. "And I need to try and tire this one out so she'll take a nap for me later."
"Good luck with that."
She tossed a wave over her shoulder. "See you later. Come on, Avery."
I released Winston. "Gianna —"
"I did mention Geoff and I are renovating our kitchen, right?"
My neighbor kept a firm grip on her daughter's hand, despite Avery's attempts to squirm loose. "I noticed the huge dumpster in your driveway — a pretty big clue — and you also said you were thinking about it earlier this summer."
"I guess that thing is hard to miss." Winston sniffed around my feet. "I just wanted to warn you there'll be workmen around during the day, but most of the noise will be inside the house. A friend is acting as our project manager, and he knows all the workers."
"Great. Thanks for letting me know."
A knock at the front door as I entered the house signaled the arrival of one sister — most likely Johanna, who was always early.
She greeted me with a quick hug, setting her leather purse and her book on the small oak table Geoff and I kept by the front door. At least she'd brought her copy of the book we'd chosen. The question was, had she read it?
"Good to see you, Joey. How are you?"
"Tired." Johanna slipped off her leather sandals, looking trim in black capris and a red flowing top with cutout shoulders. "Between my work and Beckett's schedule at the Air Force Academy, life's crazy."
"Still, it must be nice having him in the same state at least."
"He might as well have kept his original assignment in Alabama. The superintendent at the academy keeps him so busy dealing with speeches and briefings and I don't know what else, we barely see each other."
"But you see him more than you did when he lived in another state, right?" And not seeing each other was the norm for Beckett and Johanna.
"I'm not keeping track of hours and minutes."
"One thing I know is you and Beckett can do this. You've managed a long-distance relationship for years, which means you can manage crazy hours with both of you living in the same town. I remember how excited you both were the weekend he drove into the Springs."
"You're right, Jilly. I'm still getting used to this new phase. It was so sudden."
"Why don't you go make a cup of coffee? I apologize that it's from a plastic pod and not your preferred French press. But I do have cream ..." Had I taken the time to put it in the fridge? Payton pulled up in front of the house as I started to close the door. "I'll wait here for Payton."
"Sounds good." My oldest sister disappeared in a light cloud of her Coco perfume.
Payton released her long auburn hair from its ponytail as she half ran up the sidewalk. "Hey!"
"No need to run — you're not late."
"I lost track of time." She shook her head, strands falling around her shoulders.
"Well, come on in." We shared a quick hug. "Do you want coffee or water?"
"Both sound great. I'm dehydrated and undercaffeinated — a bad combination, especially if I want to get along with Johanna this morning."
"Don't start." I resisted the urge to shake my finger at Payton.
"It was a joke."
In the kitchen, Johanna had arranged the fresh-from-aplastic-container muffins onto a plate. The premade fruit salad now sat on the counter in a white ceramic bowl.
"Thanks." I retrieved a serving spoon from the drawer. "I could have done that."
"I figured I would make myself useful while I waited for my coffee." She gave Payton a slow once-over. "Did you just come from the gym?"
"Technically, yes, but I was coaching, not working out.
I met one of my JV girls for a private lesson. She wanted to work on blocking." She raised both hands, waving aside her explanation. "Sorry if you're offended, big sister. I couldn't shower if I wanted to be here close to on time."
Johanna hadn't commented on my casual attire of relaxed jeans and a navy-blue Broncos T-shirt — a well-loved gift from Dad. But Johanna and Payton would find something to bicker about even if they'd taken a vow of silence. And me? I would always be the designated driver of the emotional vehicle that carried our merry little trio.
"You look fine, Payton. This is a book club, not a formal affair. Grab yourself some coffee and I'll get your water." I retrieved a glass from the closest cupboard. "I thought I could walk you both through the kitchen — tell you about our renovation plans — before we sit down and talk about the book. Zach was here last night, finalizing everything."
There was no overlooking how Payton's eyes lit up at the mention of Zach. Maybe someday soon she'd share more about their relationship. For now, she maintained a "just friends" demeanor and kept all details to herself. Of course, even friendship with the man she once blamed for Pepper's death would be considered progress by a lot of people.
"I still don't understand why our family — and Payton in particular — is so chummy with Zach Gaines."
Payton stiffened at Johanna's comment.
"Zach helped us select these beautiful white cabinets —" I spoke up, hoping if I kept talking, I could divert the brewing tension —" that he'll custom design and install for us. A few will have inset glass. They'll work so well with the countertops we picked out. The counters are made from pressed paper, if you can believe that."
"Pressed paper?" Johanna's brow furrowed as if I'd suggested we were using blue-lined notebook paper for our kitchen counters.
"It's a new green alternative. We selected a pewter color. Between enlarging the window over the sink and knocking out the wall between the kitchen and the dining room, everything is going to feel so open and light."
Payton finished chugging her glass of water, ignoring Johanna's glare. "Zach told me that he also agreed to be the project manager."
"Geoff asked him about that when we first started discussing renovating the kitchen. What with Geoff taking on some extra projects at work and me being gone at the bank, we figured we needed someone to oversee the renovation. Zach talked with his boss, who agreed to a four-day workweek for him in the office and one day from home." My explanation was more for Johanna's benefit than Payton's, who I'm certain already knew this. "Geoff and I have so much more peace of mind, knowing Zach is going to make certain everything stays on track."
"What else are you planning?"
Before I spoke, I prepped Payton's coffee, silently counting off three sugars. "We picked out dark wood floors last weekend. And I finally decided to splurge on a waterfall counter for the island. I also asked Zach to check on replacing the back door with French doors."
"Those will be expensive." Johanna found plates and silverware, obviously ready to eat.
"Yes, but my bonus was bigger than we expected, and Geoff had been saving for this before we got married. Besides, we want to do the kitchen right and not have any regrets later."
Johanna offered both of us plates. "You've been watching too many home makeover shows."
My big sister was not going to talk me out of my fun — or convince me to be more economical. Geoff and I knew what we were doing. And it wasn't as if we'd spent a lot of money on a lavish wedding.
"We're considering this renovation a belated wedding gift to ourselves." I added cubes of cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon to my plate. "We're both ready to have this curling laminate pulled up. The old, worn cabinets torn out."
Geoff and I were looking ahead — not back over our shoulders at everything that had overtaken us during the past year after my breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
"Why don't we each get something to eat, refresh our coffee if we need to, and go sit in the living room so we can talk about the book?" Winston scratched at the back door again. "I'll let Winston inside and put him in his kennel."
Payton selected a muffin, pausing to take the plate that Johanna held out to her. "Oh, don't do that. He won't be a bother."
"Right." I couldn't help but laugh. "We all have food. You know he'll wander around begging."
"We won't feed him, will we, Johanna?"
Johanna sniffed. "I'm not the one who sneaks food to that dog."
"You're as bad as Dad when it comes to Winston."
In a few moments, we were all settled — Johanna and I on the couch and Payton in Geoff 's favorite oversize chair, with Winston sitting at attention at her feet.
Payton made a display of ignoring Winston's whines. "So what did you all think of the first chapter?"
"I don't like the idea of having to read a biography. I feel like I'm back in college."
Payton groaned. "Johanna, you said that about the classics Jillian suggested — and this was the one book we all agreed on. Besides, I'm the one back in college."
"I just think we should have looked at more options."
"We made the decision to read this book." Payton held up her copy. "We all bought it. It's done."
Before I could decide if I was going to jump in and referee this early, my phone pinged with a text message.
"This might be Geoff checking with me while he's finishing up at the gym. He probably wants to see if we need anything at the store." I angled the phone where it sat on the coffee table, ready to silence it. But instead of Geoff's familiar face, Mom's name appeared.
How are you feeling today? You've looked so tired lately that I was worried, but then Johanna explained that it's a common side effect of the medication you're on.
I gripped my phone, rereading the message, ignoring the fact that Johanna and Payton were both watching me. "Johanna, you're talking to Mom about my medication?"
"What do you mean?" Johanna sipped her coffee, eyeing me over the rim of her cup.
Before I could answer, there was another ping. And I can understand if you're also upset that you can't get pregnant while you're on Tamoxifen.
No. I pressed my lips together, struggling to think of what to say — how to respond to Mom's text. To what Johanna had done.
If the first text was bothersome, the second one was as if Johanna had invited herself and all of the family — Payton, our parents — to my various doctors' appointments. She might as well have included Beckett and Zach Gaines in the group, too.
"You told Mom that I can't get pregnant?"
Johanna's facial expression didn't change as she took another sip of her not-French-press coffee before replying. "What are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about these two texts from Mom." I held up my phone. "She says you explained how my medication is making me tired. And told her that I can't get pregnant while I'm on Tamoxifen."
"Oh, that. We were talking ... I can't remember when. And she said she was worried about you." Johanna nibbled on a cube of watermelon. "I took the time to explain things to her so she would understand what was going on."
"Why would you do that?"
"Because she was worried about you." Johanna spoke slowly, as if I needed her to enunciate so I would be able to understand. "I just told her things everybody knows. Fatigue is a common side effect of that medication —"
"Everybody knows?" My voice was getting louder, but I didn't seem to have any control over it. "Does everybody know I can't get pregnant? Did you post it on a billboard along I25?"
"Now you're being ridiculous, Jill." My sister dismissed my questions with a shake of her head. "People know you can't get pregnant while you're on Tamoxifen."
"You know, Johanna." Payton spoke up. "You know."
"Of course I know. I'm a pharmacist."
"That's exactly my point." Payton was in full-on offensive mode now. "You had no right to talk to Mom. Will you just admit you invaded Jillian's privacy?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Moments We Forget"
Copyright © 2019 Beth K. Vogt.
Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
Vogt is paving a way for herself in the world of women’s fiction. The Thatcher sisters deal with real issues and, despite their trials, find love and friendship in the midst.
In Moments We Forget, Beth Vogt tackles the topics of childlessness, infidelity, and faith, weaving them with sensitivity and grace into a gripping novel that’s impossible to put down. Fans of family dramas won’t want to miss this one!
Delightful to spend time with the Thatcher sisters once again! We feel like part of the family and cheer as Jillian, Johanna, and Payton find their way back to each other.