Bestselling author Diane Chamberlain delivers a breakout book about a small southern town fifty years ago, and the darkest—and most hopeful—places in the human heart
After losing her parents, fifteen-year-old Ivy Hart is left to care for her grandmother, older sister and nephew as tenants on a small tobacco farm. As she struggles with her grandmother's aging, her sister's mental illness and her own epilepsy, she realizes they might need more than she can give.
When Jane Forrester takes a position as Grace County's newest social worker, she doesn't realize just how much her help is needed. She quickly becomes emotionally invested in her clients' lives, causing tension with her boss and her new husband. But as Jane is drawn in by the Hart women, she begins to discover the secrets of the small farm—secrets much darker than she would have guessed. Soon, she must decide whether to take drastic action to help them, or risk losing the battle against everything she believes is wrong.
Set in rural Grace County, North Carolina in a time of state-mandated sterilizations and racial tension, Necessary Lies tells the story of these two young women, seemingly worlds apart, but both haunted by tragedy. Jane and Ivy are thrown together and must ask themselves: how can you know what you believe is right, when everyone is telling you it's wrong?
|Publisher:||St. Martin''s Publishing Group|
|File size:||3 MB|
About the Author
DIANE CHAMBERLAIN is the bestselling author of more than twenty novels published in over eleven languages. Her books include The First Lie, Her Mother's Shadow, The Good Father, and Kiss River. She lives in North Carolina with her partner, photographer John Pagliuca, and her shelties, Keeper and Cole.
Read an Excerpt
By Diane Chamberlain
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2013 Diane Chamberlain Books, Inc.
All rights reserved.
JUNE 22, 2011
It was an odd request—visit a stranger's house and peer inside a closet—and as I drove through the neighborhood searching for the address, I felt my anxiety mounting.
There it was: number 247. I hadn't expected the house to be so large. It stood apart from its neighbors on the gently winding road, flanked on either side by huge magnolia trees, tall oaks, and crape myrtle. It was painted a soft buttery yellow with white trim, and everything about it looked crisp and clean in the early morning sun. Every house I'd passed, although different in architecture, had the same stately yet inviting look. I didn't know Raleigh well at all, but this had to be one of the most beautiful old neighborhoods in the city.
I parked close to the curb and headed up the walk. Potted plants lined either side of the broad steps that led up to the wraparound porch. I glanced at my watch. I had an hour before I needed to be back at the hotel. No rush, though my nerves were really acting up. There was so much I hoped would go well today, and so much of it was out of my control.
I rang the bell and heard it chime inside the house. I could see someone pass behind the sidelight and then the door opened. The woman—forty, maybe? At least ten years younger than me—smiled, although that didn't mask her harried expression. I felt bad for bothering her this early. She wore white shorts, a pink striped T-shirt, and tennis shoes, and sported a glowing tan. She was the petite, toned, and well-put-together sort of woman that always made me feel sloppy, even though I knew I looked fine in my black pants and blue blouse.
"Brenna?" She ran her fingers through her short-short, spiky blond hair.
"Yes," I said. "And you must be Jennifer."
Jennifer peered behind me. "She's not with you?" she asked.
I shook my head. "I thought she'd come, but at the last minute she said she just couldn't."
Jennifer nodded. "Today must be really hard for her." She took a step back from the doorway. "Come on in," she said. "My kids are done with school for the summer, but they have swim-team practice this morning, so we're in luck. We have the house to ourselves. The kids are always too full of questions."
"Thanks." I walked past her into the foyer. I was glad no one else was home. I wished I had the house totally to myself, to be honest. I would have loved to explore it. But that wasn't why I was here.
"Can I get you anything?" Jennifer asked. "Coffee?"
"No, I'm good, thanks."
"Well, come on then. I'll show you."
She led me to the broad, winding staircase and we climbed it without speaking, my shoes on the shiny dark hardwood treads making the only sound.
"How long have you been in the house?" I asked when we reached the second story.
"Five years," she said. "We redid everything. I mean, we painted every single room and every inch of molding. And every closet, too, except for that one."
"Why didn't you paint that one?" I asked as I followed her down a short hallway.
"The woman we bought the house from specifically told us not to. She said that the couple she'd bought the house from had also told her not to, but nobody seemed to understand why not. The woman we bought it from showed us the writing. My husband thought we should just paint over it—I think he was spooked by it—but I talked him out of it. It's a closet. What would it hurt to leave it unpainted?" We'd reached the closed door at the end of the hall. "I had no idea what it meant until I spoke to you on the phone." She pushed open the door. "It's my daughter's room now," she said, "so excuse the mess."
It wasn't what I'd call messy at all. My twin daughters' rooms had been far worse. "How old's your daughter?" I asked.
"Ten. Thus the Justin Bieber obsession." She swept her arm through the air to take in the lavender room and its nearly wall-to-wall posters.
"It only gets worse." I smiled. "I barely survived my girls' teen years." I thought of my family—my husband and my daughters and their babies—up in Maryland and suddenly missed them. I hoped I'd be home by the weekend, when all of this would be over.
Jennifer opened the closet door. It was a small closet, the type you'd find in these older homes, and it was crammed with clothes on hangers and shoes helter-skelter on the floor. I felt a chill, as though a ghost had slipped past me into the room. I hugged my arms as Jennifer pulled a cord to turn on the light. She pressed the clothes to one side of the closet.
"There," she said, pointing to the left wall at about the level of my knees. "Maybe we need a flashlight?" she asked. "Or I can just take a bunch of these clothes out. I should have done that before you got here." She lifted an armload of the clothes and struggled to disengage the hangers before carrying them from the closet. Without the clothing, the closet filled with light and I squatted inside the tight space, pushing pink sneakers and a pair of sandals out of my way.
I ran my fingers over the words carved into the wall. Ancient paint snagged my fingertips where it had chipped away around the letters. "Ivy and Mary was here." All at once, I felt overwhelmed by the fear they must have felt back then, and by their courage. When I stood up, I was brushing tears from my eyes.
Jennifer touched my arm. "You okay?" she asked.
"Fine," I said. "I'm grateful to you for not covering that over. It makes it real to me."
"If we ever move out of this house, we'll tell the new owners to leave it alone, too. It's a little bit of history, isn't it?"
I nodded. I remembered my phone in my purse. "May I take a picture of it?"
"Of course!" Jennifer said, then added with a laugh, "Just don't get my daughter's messy closet in it."
I pulled out my phone and knelt down near the writing on the wall. I snapped the picture and felt the presence of a ghost again, but this time it wrapped around me like an embrace.CHAPTER 2
I swept the ground by the tobacco barn, hoping for a chance to talk to Henry Allen. He was on the other side of the field, though, working with the mules, and it didn't look like he'd be done soon. No point in me staying any longer. All the day labor was gone already and if Mr. Gardiner spotted me he'd wonder why I was still here. Mary Ella was gone, too, of course. I didn't want to know which of the boys—or men—she went off with. Most likely she was someplace in the woods. Down by the crick, maybe, where the trees and that tangle of honeysuckle made a private place where you could do anything. I knew that place so well. Maybe Mary Ella knew it, too. Henry Allen told me "just don't think about it," so I tried to put it out of my head. My sister was going to do what she wanted to do. Nothing me or nobody else could do about it. I told her we couldn't have another baby in the house and she gave me that hollow-eyed look like I was speaking a foreign tongue. Couldn't get through to Mary Ella when she gave you that look. She was seventeen—two years older than me—but you'd think I was her mama trying to keep her on the straight-and-narrow path to heaven. Some days I felt like I was everybody's mama.
I headed home down Deaf Mule Road where it ran between two tobacco fields that went on forever and ever. I couldn't look at all them acres and acres of tobacco we still had to get in. My fingers was still sticky with tar from that day's work. Even my hair felt like it had tar in it, and as I walked down the road, I lifted one blond end of my hair from under my kerchief and checked it, but it just looked like my plain old hair. Dried hay. That's what Nonnie said about my hair one time. My own grandma, and she didn't care about hurting my feelings. It was true, though. Mary Ella got the looks in our family. Roses in her cheeks. Full head of long wild curls, the color of sweet corn. Carolina-blue eyes. "Them looks of hers is a curse," Nonnie always said. "She walks out the door and every boy in Grace County loses his good sense."
I took off my shoes and the dust from the road felt soft beneath my feet. Maybe the best thing I felt all day. Every time I did that—walked barefoot on the dirt road between the Gardiners' two-story farmhouse and our little house—I felt like I was walking on Mama's old ragged black velveteen shawl. That was practically the only thing we had left of hers. I used to sleep with it, but now with Baby William sharing the bed with me and Mary Ella, there wasn't no room for nothing bigger than my memory of Mama, and after all these years, that was just a little slip of a thing.
I came to the end of the road where it dipped into the woods. The path got rough here with tree roots and rocks but I knew where every one of them was. I put my shoes back on before I came to the open area with the chigger weeds and by then I could hear Baby William howling. He was going at it good and Nonnie was hollerin' at him to shut it, so I started running before she could get to the point of hitting him. For all I knew she'd been hitting him all afternoon. Nonnie wasn't all that mean, but when her rheumatism made her hands hot and red, her fuse was right short. She said she raised our daddy, then me and Mary Ella, and she thought she was done with the raising. Then all of a sudden, Baby William came along.
"I'm here!" I called as I ran into our yard. The bike me and Mary Ella shared was on its side in the dirt and I jumped over it and ran around the woodpile. Baby William stood on the stoop, saggy diaper hanging halfway down his fat legs, his face all red and tears making paths through the dirt on his cheeks. His black curls was so thick they looked like a wig on his head. He raised his arms out to me when he saw me.
"I'm here, baby boy!" I said, and I scooped him up. He settled right away like always, his body shaking with the end of his crying. Now, if Mary Ella was with me, it'd be her he'd reach for—he knew his mama—but right now he was mine. "Gotcha, sweet baby," I whispered in his ear.
I looked through the open doorway of our house, trying to see where Nonnie was, but it was dark in there and all I could see was the end of the ratty sofa where the sunlight lit on it from the open doorway. Nonnie kept the shades drawn all day to keep the house cooler. Mr. Gardiner put electricity in our house when I was little, but you'd swear Nonnie hadn't figured out how to work it yet. Didn't matter. The only real light in the house was the one I held in my arms.
"Let's get you changed," I said, climbing the stoop and walking into the house. I drew up the crackling old shades at the two front windows to let some light in and the dust motes took to floating around the room. Nonnie showed up in the doorway to the kitchen. She had a bundle of folded diapers and towels in her left arm and she leaned on her cane with her free hand.
"Mary Ella ain't with you?" she asked, like that was out of the ordinary.
"No." I kissed her cheek and I could of swore her hair had more gray in it than just that morning when she spent a few hours helping with the barning. She was turning into an old lady before my eyes, with big puffy arms and three chins and walking bent over. She already had the sugar and the high blood and I had this worry of losing her. You got to expecting it after a while, things going wrong. I wasn't no pessimist, though. Mrs. Rex, my science teacher two years ago, told me I was one of them people that looked on the bright side of things. I thought of Mrs. Rex every time I started to say the word "ain't" and changed it to "isn't." "You can't get anywhere in life talking dumb," she told us. Not that I was exactly getting anywhere in life.
I took the laundry from Nonnie with my free hand, catching a whiff of sunshine from the towels. "Maybe she's getting some extras from Mr. Gardiner," I said, trying to think positive. I wanted to wipe the scowl off Nonnie's face. Once or twice a week, Mr. Gardiner, Henry Allen's daddy who owned all them acres and acres of tobacco, gave Mary Ella things from his own personal garden—and sometimes his smokehouse—for us. He could just as easy hand them to me, but her being the oldest seemed to mean something to him. Or maybe it was that she was a mama now and he thought the food should go to Baby William. I didn't know. All I knew was that we needed them extras. Mr. Gardiner took care of us in a lot of ways. He gave us a Frigidaire and a new woodstove so big the heat could reach the bedroom as long as we left the door open—and since the door didn't close all the way, that was easy. Nonnie was about to ask for indoor plumbing when Mary Ella started sprouting her belly. Then Nonnie decided she better not ask for nothing more.
"Did Mary Ella tell him about them deer getting into our garden again?" she asked. The deer got into our garden no matter how much fencing I put around the little bit of good soil Mr. Gardiner let us work for ourselves.
"Yes," I said, though it was me who told him. Mary Ella didn't like talking to Mr. Gardiner so much. She wasn't a big talker to begin with.
"Got your wages?" Nonnie asked, like she did every day.
"I'll give 'em to you soon as I change this boy," I said, walking to the bedroom. Mr. Gardiner paid us pennies compared to his other workers, but he let us live here for nothing, so we never complained.
I plunked Baby William down on the bed and started tickling the daylights out of him because I wanted to hear him giggle. We rolled around on the bed for a couple minutes, both of us getting the worries of the day out of ourselves. Sometimes I just liked to stare at that boy, he was so beautiful. Black curls like satin when you ran your fingers through them. Black eyelashes, long and thick. Eyes so dark they was nearly black, too. Mary Ella's hair was even lighter than mine. I didn't like to think where Baby William might of got all that black from.
There was a rustle of the trees outside the window and Baby William looked in that direction. We worried early on he might be deaf 'cause he didn't seem to care about noises and Mrs. Werkman and Nurse Ann said he might need a deaf school, so now every time he heard something, I celebrated inside.
"Mama?" he asked, lifting his head to look through the window. It was about the only word he knew, which Mrs. Werkman said wasn't right. He should have more words by two, she said. I didn't like how she was always finding something wrong with him. I told her he was just quiet like Mary Ella. Not a jabbermouth, like me.
"It's just a breeze out there," I said, nuzzling his sweaty little neck. "Mama'll be home soon."
I hoped I wasn't lying.
* * *
In the kitchen, I fed Baby William on my lap while Nonnie made salad from the last of a chicken we'd been eating most of the week. It was getting near dusk and Mary Ella still wasn't home. Baby William wasn't hungry. He kept pushing my hand away and the chunks of squash fell off the spoon.
"He's always a crab at suppertime," Nonnie said.
"No he ain't," I said. I hated how she talked about him like that. I bet she talked about me and Mary Ella that way when we was little, too. "He just needs some cuddling, don't you, Baby William?" I rocked him and he hung on to me like a monkey. Mrs. Werkman said we shouldn't hold him when we feed him no more. He should sit on a chair at the table, up on the block of wood me and Mary Ella sat on when we was little, but I just loved holding him and he crabbed less on my lap. Sometimes when I held Baby William like that, I thought I could remember my own mama holding me that way.
"I doubt that," Nonnie said when I told her that one day. "She wasn't much for holding y'all."
But I remembered it. Maybe I only imagined it, but that was near as good.
Nonnie scooped Duke's mayonnaise out of the jar and mixed it into the salad, looking out the window the whole time. "Gonna be dark before you know it," she said. "You better go see if you can find your sister. That girl forgets her way home sometime."
I let Baby William eat a piece of squash with his fingers. "No telling where she is, Nonnie," I said, but I knew I had to try or we'd both be worrying half the night. I stood up, handing Nonnie the baby and the spoon, and she set him on the wooden block. He let out a howl and she clamped her hand over his mouth.
Excerpted from Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain. Copyright © 2013 Diane Chamberlain Books, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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