Young Livy Hubbard and Brian Carowack meet on the playground in Tolford, Tennessee, in 1956. Livy is cocooned in a world of wealth and privilege. Brian comes from a broken home and grows up poor. The years pass, and they go their separate ways—Livy to an Ivy League university, where she becomes an active part of the groundbreaking sixties—Brian to college on a basketball scholarship, only to drop out sophomore year. In spite of their divergent lives, they always stay in touch.
And then one fateful day, their parallel worlds come together again.
A novel that journeys across three decades, from Tennessee to California to New York, Necessary Changes is about friendship, second chances, and becoming older and wiser. It is about the decisions that shape our lives and about the courage to change—both ourselves and the future.
This ebook features an extended biography of Mary Kay McComas.
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About the Author
Mary Kay McComas is an acclaimed romance novelist and the author of twenty-one short contemporary romances, five novellas, and two novels. McComas has received numerous honors and prizes for her work, including the Washington Romance Writers’ Outstanding Achievement Award and two Career Achievement Awards from Romantic Times (one for Best New Novel and another for Most Innovative Romance Series). She has recently contributed to Nora Roberts’s J. D. Robb fantasy anthologies, with highly praised paranormal romance stories. McComas and her family live in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.
Read an Excerpt
By Mary Kay McComas
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2001 Mary Kay McComas
All rights reserved.
If you knew at age ten what you knew at age forty-two, how much of your life would you change? A ponderous question. One she'd asked herself so often lately it had become even more important than the question of why she was alive at all. You know, what is the purpose of life?
Livy removed the thin cotton open-in-back hospital gown she wore over her slip and skirt and tossed it onto the treatment table. She could hear the doctor talking, presumably to the nurse, on the other side of the door, but she couldn't make out what he was saying. It didn't matter. They were finished with her. She'd come back in a year for a look-see, but it was over. They'd done all they could for her.
She buttoned up her blouse, taking her time, wondering if the pain had been worth it. Oh, not just the physical pain. Comparatively speaking, it was nothing. But the years of emotional pain she'd suffered ... and the pain she was causing him now. Were they worth it?
If you believe that you are totally a product of your environment, and you're not unhappy with the way things turned out, then you wouldn't want to fiddle with your past, she decided. You'd want to experience it all again, the good and the bad, or your life wouldn't turn out the same. You'd want to know the same people, live the same experiences, cry the same tears, make the same mistakes. Wouldn't you? You couldn't even switch the sequence of events—such as marry your second husband first—because then you wouldn't know or appreciate how good you had it the second time around. Or would you?
Maybe she was still too young to answer such weighty questions. She felt as if she was just starting to get smart at forty-two. Real wisdom might take a little longer.
A pity really. Wisdom should come with gray hair, she thought, looking at her blurred reflection in the paper-towel dispenser above the sink. Beneath the concoction her hairdresser applied to her scalp every six weeks, she was salt-and-pepper gray. Prematurely, of course. After all, she had young children at home. And she couldn't run around looking like their grandmother, could she? She used the mirror in her compact to apply a little extra blush to her right cheek. Lipstick covered the paleness the pain created—and if she smiled, maybe the Telfa dressing over her left cheek would be less noticeable. Or not. At this point, it made very little difference. In six weeks it would be gone forever. And what was six weeks to forever? Or to forty-two years, for that matter?
She studied her face in the little round mirror. It wasn't all that different.
Brian hated different, hated change. If it were up to him, time would have stopped in 1960. They'd still be ten years old and riding their bikes all over Tolford. She returned the compact to her purse and slipped her feet into low-heeled shoes. No. He'd have stopped time in 1967 so he could rediscover low-interest, no-obligation, disease-free sex. No, no, no. He'd stop it in '68. He was a basketball star that year, and Cathy Dixon was on his mind like a ... a brain tumor.
She gave a soft laugh. Change was inevitable. He should know that by now. It was scary. And it never came easily—especially when it was a change for the better.
Why did it seem so much easier to cling to old ways, to neglect things, to let them run down and decay than to work and build and create something new and good?
Not for the first time she wondered if perhaps that wasn't man's fatal flaw, part of the curse for the original sin—his reluctance to make changes because he got burned so badly the first time he tried to change things, back in Eden. Maintaining the status quo wasn't as risky, and it was easier.
Wasn't it easier to ridicule new ideas than to embrace them? Wasn't it easier to hate than to love? Scorn than to praise? Ostracize than accept? And yet, in truth, it takes a lot more energy to hate someone for the color of his skin than it does to admire him for his character and talents. A lot more effort to fight a war than to live in peace. A lot more emotion to kill than to make love.
It was a curse all right.
There was a time when she thought she could change all that. Not single-handedly, of course. That is, not unless she was forced to act alone because of the inertia of her fellow human beings.
She shook her head in disbelief as she gathered up her purse and smoothed her hair into place with one hand. Had she really been so young and supercilious?
What a big, bad place the world had seemed in those days—and so ripe for revamping.
A new bandwagon came along every five minutes, and you could pick one or jump on them all. Black civil rights. The Vietnam war. Women's liberation. Ecology. Government graft and corruption. Endangered species. Abortion. Communist aggression. Inflation. It was a wonder she didn't break anything hopping on and off those wagons.
Of course, Brian would have been there to catch her if she'd slipped. He'd always been there. Traveling through life with her, refusing to ride on a bandwagon but walking a parallel path of his own, viewing the world from a different perspective—from a quiet, down-to-earth angle that was simple and basic.
He'd always been there, like a safe base in a game of Tag-You're-It. He was the keeper of her faith, the guardian of her innocence. His hands painted the splendor of the earth for her. She saw her own beauty through Brian's eyes ...
Brian reached for his overcoat, shook out the wrinkles and folded it, then hung it over his arm. He did the same to her coat and filled the air around him with the scent of lilacs. Always lilacs.
He took in the familiar fragrance, long and deep, his nose buried in the soft wool. It was true red, her favorite color. Her smell. Her color. He wondered if those things would change now. He wondered if she would change.
He couldn't help it; he was scared. That deep-down, sick-at-your-stomach scared you get just before your whole life comes crashing in around you. He'd been that scared before, but not recently. Not for a long time, until now.
He glanced at the doorway, then stood, holding both coats to him. He walked to the window.
The doctor's office was part of New York University Medical Center in lower Manhattan. It was painted rental-unit tan. The furniture was covered in fecal-brown and puke-green vinyl. The nurses wore perky pink-and-white uniforms. They clashed with the decor. And the window had no view—only the outer wall of the next building, some melting snow on the ledge, some pigeon poop.
He shook his head and closed his eyes. He hated New York. He always had. Even when he lived there. Of course, that had been years and years ago. How old had he been?
That was when she first got married, so he must have been about twenty-four. They were the same age, give or take three months, two weeks and two days. He was still living there when she got divorced; that made it four years he'd spent in New York. Certainly long enough to decide whether you liked a place or not. And he didn't.
He much preferred old Tolford, the town they had grown up in. Tolford, Tennessee. Located just south of the Mason Dixon, east of Nowhere, west of Nothing. The city-limit signs weren't exactly back to back, but you could see them both from the middle of Main Street. There were bigger dots on the map, but none better in his opinion. Good old Tolford.
When he opened his eyes, they were directed at the doorway again. Empty. He glanced at the other patients waiting to see the doctor. A dermatologist-slash-plastic surgeon who believed in the practice of innovative procedures.
The fear squirmed in his belly again. Was any other medical specialty reputed to have fewer scruples than plastic surgery? Or a higher incidence of quackery? Plastic surgery—it sounded like a game for children. Plastic surgeon—made by Tyco? Accessories not included?
He sighed. He knew he wasn't being fair. She had her reasons for being there. Livy was ever ready with her reasons for doing things. He couldn't say he fully understood them all. He tried. But he didn't always succeed.
His gaze slipped to the oversized coffee table inconveniently placed in the center of the tiny waiting room. It was heaped high with magazines and newspapers. Sports Illustrated, USA Today, People, U.S. News & World Report. On top was the outdated Time he'd tried to read earlier. A short article he couldn't finish. Something about a place called Botswana. It was one of those relatively new countries that kept popping up to remind him how long it had been since he'd studied geography in school.
Not a very stable place, the earth. There were new countries everywhere, it seemed to him. Several more in Africa, a few in Europe. Czechoslovakia was two separate countries now, and Germany was back to being a single state. Even the dreaded "Russia" of his youth, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was in fragments. Or so he'd heard. He didn't really bother to keep up with such things, though it did amuse him sometimes to think that whole countries could come and go, and still you could find a prize in a box of Cracker Jacks.
Some things never changed, and he liked that.
Being able to count on things was important. He'd spent most of his forty-odd years seeking solid, basic truths in his life and had managed to cling to a mere handful. He must have come to the conclusion early on that there was little truth or stability going on around him, because the world as a whole didn't affect him much.
Not the way it affected some people. Not like it affected her.
He was, by self-admission, an introverted man. Pensive. Introspective.
Maybe self-absorbed was closer to the truth.
He felt guilty sometimes, believing himself to be the only person alive at the time who didn't fall to the ground and weep buckets of tears when he heard President Kennedy had been assassinated. His vague recollection of the funeral was of how long and boring it was. The only impression he had of the first moon walk was the question of why all three channels had to televise it at the same time. And how long that guy's golf ball would be in orbit. It used to irritate him when people discussed the Vietnam war at parties and when racial equality was hotly debated as if it were a two-sided issue.
He'd taken a lot for granted in his life. His freedom. His innocence. His good fortune to be born in the exact right month, under the best of stars, with his moon rising in the luckiest of houses, so that all he had to deal with when he came of age was yuppiedom and some political turmoil in the Middle East that in no way, shape, or fashion affected his daily life.
He blinked away a small collection of recollections and glanced over his shoulder. The doorway was still empty.
It was a good thing no one could look inside his head. The confusing blur would frighten them. His memory was a nimbus of color and emotion, a thick, sometimes swirling fog dotted with distressingly few solid experiences to cling to. Facts and fragments of historical events had passed through, but they were too heavy and too detached from the moment he was living in, they simply slipped away and were forgotten.
Older but no wiser, he wasn't surprised that after forty-two years of treading life's waters he could barely distinguish one moment gone by from the next. Nor did it surprise him that his head was still above the water, even though he'd floundered and gone under so often. Somehow he'd always managed to rise to the surface once more, take a deep breath, look around.
Curious to see what she'd do next, he supposed, turning to look out the window again.
What he knew of the world, what he knew of his life, he knew because of her. If he had convictions and beliefs, if he had hope and empathy, it was because of her. If he'd done one decent thing in his life, taken one risk, given a single ounce of himself to better the world, it was because of her. She was his link to the rest of the world, and it was her oyster. She loved it. She cared about it. She fought for it. She protected it. She was ever faithful to the assumption that somewhere within all its ugliness, there was a beautiful pearl.
Oh, yes. If he had any memory of his life at all, it was of Livy.CHAPTER 2
Good old Tolford.
Only Main Street had sidewalks in those good old days. The town's lifeblood flowed through three primary arteries: an electric-fan factory, a rayon textile plant, and agriculture.
There were three churches, one Presbyterian, one Baptist, and the old black Baptist church, of course. (The last, according to his mother, who still lived in Tolford, had recently been taken over by a group of Christian fundamentalists—though they weren't expected to last long.) And there were six bars. A reasonable ratio, in his estimation.
Tolford boasted two gas stations, two grocery stores, four regular restaurants, and three fast-food establishments that, to him, qualified as competitive economics. There were three public schools, one for each level—no private schools for miles and miles; a bowling alley; a small country club, which was actually a community pool and golf course that didn't require exclusive membership anymore; and one doctor—Dr. McAbey, a general practitioner whose office and small clinic claimed the four front rooms of the big old house on Walnut Street where he lived with his family.
Broadleaf forests surrounded the town. As did acres of wheat and soybeans. A few fields of cotton and tobacco had remained, but not many. Cool, calm lakes. Excellent river fishing. If you grew up in Tolford, you grew up barefoot and happy. Slow and lazy, Tolford was his sort of place. He missed it. All of it. Though he could clearly recall a time when he'd seen it quite differently ...
He felt again the heat of that day and the sting of the tears in his eyes. His face was burning with shame and fear. His hair was damp and curly with sweat. He wanted to run away. It was 1956, and he didn't want to live in a new house or go to a new school. He hated this new place and everyone in it. And they hated him. They were laughing at him. He wished his mother would come back for him. If he survived his first day of school, he'd never come back. Ever. No one could make him.
And then it happened. In the middle of a heartbeat.
"Next time I tell ya ta stop it, are ya gonna stop it?" he heard her yelling. Donny Moore lay crying at her feet, his nose trickling crimson. "Or do ya want me ta punch ya again?"
Donny covered his face with his hands, discovered the blood, and started crying louder—but he didn't forget to nod the answer to her question.
In utter astonishment, for he hadn't even considered hitting Donny himself, Brian slowly turned to face the girl beside him.
Granted, his knowledge of females was limited at the time. He knew they wore dresses and they didn't get crew cuts, but other than that they were just "girls" in his mind—the other half to his teacher's "Now boys and girls ..."
But SHE, this girl, was magnificent. Long dark hair braided down both sides of her face and huge deep-brown eyes that were just a little too big for her six- year-old face. She had an acre of freckles scattered across her button nose and a big purple blotch on her left cheek. Her expression was still stormy with anger and mayhem as she glared down at Donny.
Then she glanced at him.
"What are you starin' at?" she asked him, glowering.
"Nothin'," he said. He lowered his gaze, taking in her red plaid dress with its white Peter Pan collar, the lace-trimmed anklets, the Mary Jane shoes, and prayed that she wouldn't sock him, too, when he asked, "How come you hit him?"
"He was makin' fun of you," she said, puzzled. "Didn't ya know he was makin' fun of the way ya talk?"
"Yeah. I knew."
"Why didn't you hit him?"
"You're not th-uppo-th-ed to fight at th-chool," he answered, lisping his esses.
"You'll get in trouble." His mother had warned him about it.
"I won't." Her smile was smug. "I got permission."
"Permi-th-ion? To hit kid-th?"
"Well, not all of 'em," she said, walking away from the scene of the crime as if it hadn't happened. He fell into step beside her, not caring where she was going. "But my daddy says I can punch anyone who makes fun of me, 'cause they deserve it."
Excerpted from Necessary Changes by Mary Kay McComas. Copyright © 2001 Mary Kay McComas. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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