“If Julie Cantrell isn’t on your reading list, she should be.” —Lisa Wingate
Years ago, Lovey chose to leave her family and the South far behind. But now that she’s returned, she’s realizing things at home were not always what they seemed.
Eva Sutherland—known to all as Lovey—grew up safe and secure in Oxford, Mississippi, surrounded by a rich literary history and her mother’s stunning flower gardens. But a shed fire, and the injuries it caused, changed everything. Her older sister, Bitsy, blamed Lovey for the irreparable damage. Bitsy became the homecoming queen and the perfect Southern belle who could do no wrong. All the while, Lovey served as the family scapegoat, always bearing the brunt when Bitsy threw blame her way.
At eighteen, suffocating in her sister’s shadow, Lovey turned down a marriage proposal and fled to Arizona. Free from Bitsy’s vicious lies, she became a successful advertising executive and a weekend yoga instructor, carving a satisfying life for herself. But at forty-five, Lovey is feeling more alone than ever and questioning the choices that led her here.
When her father calls insisting she come home three weeks early for her parents’ 50th anniversary, Lovey is at her wits’ end. She’s about to close the biggest contract of her career, and there’s a lot on the line. But despite the risks, her father’s words, “Family First,” draw her back to the red-dirt roads of Mississippi.
Lovey is quickly engrossed in a secret project—a memory garden her father has planned as an anniversary surprise. But the landscaper who’s also working on it is none other than Fisher, the first boy she ever loved. As she helps create this sacred space, Lovey begins to rediscover her roots, the power of second chances, and how to live perennially in spite of life’s many trials and tragedies.
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|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
May 2016 Phoenix, Ar izona
"At what point do we admit we get paid to lie?" My assistant, Brynn, eyes the empty conference room down the hall, then the clock. The biggest campaign of our career is on the line, and with less than an hour before our big meeting, today's the day we seal the deal. Or lose it.
"I prefer to think of it as a little coat of shine." I pass her a tin of Altoids, hoping the sweet sting of peppermint will ease her nerves.
I wasn't always a liar, but time has worn me down, and I now find truth a watery thing to hold. It's been decades since I spent long, leafy summers clipping crinum lilies from Mother's gardens, playing in the shadow of trees. I've replaced soil with salary, literature with lunch meetings, and all things Southern with a dry Arizona predictability.
Here in this Phoenix high-rise, I now earn big rewards for veiling the truth. Although within the buzzing corporate hive known as Apogee, we prefer the more respectable term — advertising.
Brynn replies, mint pinned like a marble against her cheek. "Presentation set to view. Leave-behinds stacked at each seat. Rose water chilled." When I offer a grateful grin, she adds, "You taught me well." A brown braid falls from her shoulder, revealing a tattoo beneath the ruffled sleeve. Youth, she's still got it. I don't.
I straighten my skirt, a modest knit I chose from Jansana's latest line, hoping to please my clients. "Now, power stance." I take the position of Wonder Woman, inching my legs hip-distance apart with hands on waist and chin held high. My strawberry-blonde locks, tightly cropped, are fighting gray strands that seem determined to stake their claim.
Lifting her arms into a victory V, Brynn aims for a double dose of superpower. It's a trick we learned from a TED Talks video, our latest obsession. We hold it for the two-minute span, and then she reacts. "It really does work!" She stretches her spine a bit straighter, surging with confidence.
Offering an I-told-you-so wink, I rearrange a vase of Mexican elder, a broad burst of flowers I clipped on the way into the tower this morning, a sign of good luck. In these parts the white clusters can fade from the tree by early spring, but we're far into May already and they're still producing their notable cloud-like blooms, a rebellious showing my mother would appreciate.
I push the vase to the side of my desk and close my planner. It's been color coded to keep me organized, providing a detailed task list for each and every day. When the bright-blue tab snags my sleeve, I can no longer ignore its labeled reminder: Annual Personal Goals. I jot myself a quick note: Reassessment due.
Then I lead the way to our fourteenth-floor conference room where we will soon welcome Jansana's CEO, president, and chair of their all-female board. Known as The Trio, these women have launched one of the most successful activewear companies in the world, a multibillion-dollar corporation recognized for trendy yoga gear and celebrity endorsers. If we play our cards right, they'll hire us to handle their advertising, a goal I've had for at least five years.
I fiddle with the silver chain around my neck. The dime-size charm weighs against the hollow of my throat. It's the symbol of an hourglass, a graduation gift from my parents. Engraved with the words Your time is now, it serves as a daily reminder that the sands are always shifting, that life won't wait for any of us.
"We get this one shot, Brynn. One."
In response, Brynn breaks out in the famous Eminem song "Lose Yourself," singing the catchy "one shot" phrase about making the most of life's opportunities. She nails the rap rhythm with ease while I prepare the presentation, tweaking the angle for optimal lighting. Her youthful performance delivers a pierce of envy to my ribs, but laughter wins and I offer a playful bow of respect. She's earned it.
"Always swore I'd never sell out." Brynn settles into one of the twelve chairs, spinning her pen atop the oval table. "Two years in the Peace Corps and now look at me." She tilts her laptop my way, noting the new spreadsheet as proof we've each become one of the minions.
I give the stats a sideways glance, then turn my attention to the flash of yellow creosote out the window, a fresh burst of bloom to follow yesterday's scant dose of rain. "I wanted to be a horticulturist," I admit. "Florist. Flower farmer. Someone who comes home with dirt on my hands at the end of the day."
I get lost in my childhood fantasy of living happily ever after on a small Southern farm, growing eggplants and bell peppers, selling poppies and peonies. "That was before my sister ran me out of my own life." My stomach clenches. "It's ironic, really. Bitsy was the fact bender, not me."
"Good ol' Bitsy." Brynn gives her best Scarlett O'Hara impression, lifting her eyes to the side with a long, slow blink, as if she's in that posh marriage bed telling Rhett Butler, "I'm thinking about how rich we are."
"Three years older and a whole world wiser. At least that's what she'd tell you."
"Yeah, but she's a liar," Brynn jests, exaggerating the trigger word. After years of hearing me talk about my family, she thinks she's got us all figured out.
I start a pot of coffee, allowing the fragrant French roast to carry me home to my mother's kitchen. While the brew bubbles, I arrange cranberry scones and give Brynn another piece of my childhood. "I was eleven when Bitsy blamed me for setting fire to my mother's gardening shed. It was the first time I called her a liar. Chief didn't like that one bit."
I don't say how I longed to be my father's favorite, how it stung when he would choose Bitsy to sit beside him in the truck, letting her shift the gear stick every time he popped the clutch.
"I get it." Brynn rolls her eyes. "My sister's a drama queen too."
"That shed burned down more than thirty years ago, and I can still smell the stench of melted lawn mower tires."
"That would be pretty hard to forget." Brynn tilts her chair, rolls her pen through her bangs.
What I don't say is that Bitsy's fire burned more than Mother's shed. Much more. But the memory of Fisher rushing from the flames, his younger brother, Finn, ablaze in his arms, well, that part of the story has never found voice.
Our curious barn cat watched the entire act unfold, her amber eyes peering between fence posts, her wet black nose poking through to investigate the happenings of the farm. The cat knew the truth. Bitsy knew the truth. I knew the truth. But my parents, well, if they knew the truth, they weren't saying. And that nearly killed me.
"Sounds like you're feeling a little homesick today." Brynn pulls a card from her tote bag, then slides the envelope my way. It reads, Happy Birthday, Eva!
"You remembered?" At forty-five I'm way too old to expect anyone to recognize my birthday, but as I tear open the seal, I'm blushing like a schoolgirl. The image depicts an army of firefighters rushing in to extinguish a cake set aflame by countless candles. Inside is the inscription, Who says old ladies aren't hot?
"Funny." I drag the syllables, then smile.
She shrugs. "I do hope some sexy firemen show up at your door today." She has countered the comedy by placing a small pack of cosmos seeds inside the card, signing with pristine penmanship: Thanks for being the kindest soul in the cosmos. Wish big!
I shake the seeds against their paper shell, a sound much like the flutter of wings. The gift warms my heart. "I do love flowers."
"I know," Brynn boasts, and I pull her in for a hug, grateful she walked into my Arizona office seven years ago in need of an internship. Who knew this scrappy millennial would, in time, become my best friend? "We're also getting tattoos. My treat."
Like many her age, Brynn has inked herself to chart the milestones of her brief thirty years. The one in view is a henna-style elephant commemorating her two-year stint in India. Noting my reluctance, she pleads her case. "Come on, you can get one that only shows up under black light. Your mother will never know."
"Oh, trust me. She'd know." No matter how many years and miles we have between us, I still fear I'll let my mother down.
Today, I am about as far from Oxford, Mississippi, as life could take me. Fifteen hundred and thirty-six miles from the family farm and Bitsy's lies, the smoldering shed, and Chief's disappointed stare. From this high-rise view Arizona offers not a single magnolia. No pink-tinged azaleas or fragrant gardenias. Certainly no carpeted fields of clover. As I prepare my presentation, I am no longer the cross-my-heart-hope-to-die truth teller in pigtails. In fact, I now spend my days doing exactly what Bitsy taught me to do best. To lie. And not just to lie, but to keep everybody coming back for more.
"Eva, come in." Our new chief creative officer stands near the window looking like Lisa Rinna, coffee in hand. Her mug's inscription makes a stark statement: Deal with it.
I grit my teeth and enter. A middle-aged powerhouse, she took the position less than a month ago and has already laid off 20 percent of our team. Known as "The Dragon," she's the last person I want to deal with this morning. Or ever.
"Was on my way to the reception area," I explain. "Meeting The Trio at ten."
"Thought you might like a little pep talk before they arrive." She doesn't offer me a seat, so I stand beneath an abstract painting with bright-orange circles stamped across darker shades of blue. As if chosen to complement the art, her navy business suit fits tapered at the waist, a fashion that feels far too serious for our creative firm where even top executives appreciate a quirky sense of style. Framed certificates, awards, and diplomas claw the wall behind her, but there are no family portraits, no vacation pictures, no handmade drawings sketched by young children. No sign of a life beyond this.
"I like you, Eva. I do, so I'm going to tell you all you need to know to seal this deal."
Knowing she has threatened every employee with layoffs and benefit cuts, I doubt she cares one bit about my success, but I listen respectfully, eyeing the clock.
"You want to stay alive? Follow two rules." She taps her manicured nail on her mug as she lists each point. "Never admit you're wrong. And never say you're sorry."
Before I can respond, the hour hand hits ten and I am called to greet The Trio. I politely excuse myself, grateful for the rescue.
Right on time, I lead our top-tier clients to the conference room. "Have a seat," I invite. "Enjoy brunch." They are counting on me to convince the masses that in order to achieve personal peace and harmony, they need to purchase a hip pair of Jansana yoga pants. Plus a mat, straps, blocks, wedges, and eco-friendly water bottles. Doesn't matter one bit if I believe it. I have to make other people believe it. So I've learned to charm my way through it, despite the buzz of my own conscience.
Brynn serves as a hospitable host, doling out pastries while asking how they prefer their coffee. I lead a round of small talk, filling chilled glasses with rose water and topping each with a delicate pink petal the way Mother taught me to do. These women may be movers and shakers in the Arizona business world, but one should never underestimate the power of good old-fashioned Southern etiquette.
Once everyone is served, I prime them with a brief overview of Jansana's advertising history, playing highlights of their company's past commercials while comparing them with top competitors.
"Here's the thing." I spotlight an image of an athletically fit model as she strikes crow pose. Wearing a fashionable pair of Jansana yoga pants, she presses her hands into the mat, her fingers resting just above the famous logo. "We all know nobody really needs this gear. I lead a yoga class every Saturday in Sedona. I teach old ladies in sweatpants and we do just fine."
The chairwoman smirks. A previous head of the Legacy Ball, she's a society heavyweight and the idea of sweatpants seems to humor her, exactly as I hoped.
I display a clip of our Saturday yoga session, Seniors at Sunrise. After nearly three years of intense exercise and the strenuous process to become an instructor, I have worked hard to wear Jansana's Lycra pants without shame. So has Marian, a ninety-year-old widow in even better shape than me.
Unlike the other seniors, Marian's body is lean and defined as she moves through a familiar twelve-pose rotation, shifting her flexible frame from mountain pose to mountain pose with lunges, planks, and folds in between. I use the lingo, reminding The Trio I know yoga and I'm the one to sell it to the world.
The final image shows Marian and me, our hands folded at heart center, our muscles taut beneath our unforgiving pants. "So how do we sell something nobody really needs?" I ask. "First, we acknowledge it's not a need. It's a want. A reward for making our personal well-being a priority. We practice yoga because we want to feel better. We wear Jansana for the same reason."
I display clips of women wearing the company's products. A mother crossing the finish line of a 10K, her toddlers laughing in the jogging stroller as she propels them through the race. A grandmother tackling rapids in a bright-yellow kayak, her granddaughter rowing bravely alongside.
"What do you think when you see these people? Better yet, what do you feel?"
The chairwoman leans in, smiling, and I seize the moment. "Yes, that! We want to stir emotions. See? That's key. We feel inspired. These are the kind of mindful citizens we all want to be." Two heads are nodding and the third is tilted, intrigued. I keep sharing images of positive people as they practice yoga, meditate, and bike. "We don't sell gym gear. We sell an attitude — products that foster a healthy mind, body, and spirit." As the images rotate, the marketing slogan is tagged beneath each: "Feel good. Do good. Be the good. Jansana."
When the last screen is presented, the CEO lifts her glass of rose water. "Thank you, Eva." The moments drag as she takes a sip. Swallows. Then returns the glass to the slick surface with a slight clink. "I like your approach. But is anyone else concerned this may be a little too ... cliché? Cute grandmas? Kumbaya?"
Silence all around. No smiles. My pulse quickens, but I don't yet offer a defense. In the quiet I count to ten, a trick Mother taught me back in second grade, saying it would help "cool my beans when a hot head started to show itself."
The president thumbs through the leave-behind, examining the media buy, the timeline, the budget.
"It's not the most original tagline. But that's why I'm certain it will relate." I move closer to the CEO, who's still with me. "There is power in the familiar. And in this case, we're aiming to bridge current trends and root values. Combine the old with the new, which is essentially the entire purpose of yoga."
She eyes her partners, holding the poker face I've seen many times.
"Here's the thing." I turn off the projection. "We can twist these figures any way we choose. But if we really want to sell yoga gear — sell anything — we have to tell a story. A story that tugs their hearts so much they'll want to enter the narrative. They'll buy Jansana because they want to be Jansana. See?"
With the slightest rise of her lip corner, the CEO finally nods.
Then the president breaks into a smile. "Strong work, Eva." When she stands, the others follow her lead. "I'm ready to roll with this." She adjusts her suit. Tailored to accentuate her Jansana-esque figure, the Chanel tweed doesn't show a single crease. "Set a production schedule?"
"By Monday," I assure her, escorting the three executives back to the elevator. Their spiked steps combine to form a symphony of ticks and tocks, each thud moving us closer to deadline, closer to payday, and farther from truth.
By the time I make it back to my desk, Brynn is already celebrating. "Nailed it." She gives me a high five. "And on your birthday! Happy hour. Tonight. No excuses."
I throw a glance toward the oversize clock, a contemporary piece that fills the entire wall with its jolting ticks. Then I look north toward Sedona, eager to begin my two-hour route to my weekend home.
Excerpted from "Perennials"
Copyright © 2017 Julie Cantrell.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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