"Patti Callahan Henry is quickly becoming one of my favorites." —Debbie Macomber, New York Times bestselling author
Can one song change the course of a life?
Brothers Jimmy and Jack Sullivan live a nomadic life doing what they love: touring with their band, The Unknown Souls. But Jack’s recent engagement to Kara has everyone looking forward to a Christmas destination wedding in Ireland.
Unlike his brother, Jimmy never expected to fall in love. But he feels a sense of peace and happiness whenever he’s around Kara’s best friend, Charlotte—which has him wondering what he’s missing. Over Thanksgiving, Jimmy and Charlotte write a song while sitting together on the back porch. When the band sings it at a Christmas concert the next night, Jimmy insists it’s the perfect love song—but a manager for another famous duo is adamant that it’s the perfect Christmas song. Before Jimmy knows what’s happening, he’s on tour with the hottest country band around and suddenly everyone knows his name.
But fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and Jimmy finds himself far away from those he loves—especially Charlotte. Only a Christmas miracle—or two—will be able to lead Jimmy back to Ireland, to his brother, and to love.
“I fell in love with both Patti Callahan Henry and her work. The Perfect Love Song is a lyrical and heartwarming tale of love and forgiveness. Patti takes you to those places in the heart you didn’t even know you wanted to go.” —Pat Conroy, New York Times bestselling author of The Prince of Tides and South of Broad
“Patti Callahan Henry’s The Perfect Love Song is a wonderfully romantic and inspiring novel about love and redemption that sings with emotional truth. An essential read by a master storyteller.” —Cassandra King, New York Times bestselling author of Same Sweet Girls
“Her characters are so real, you feel as if you’ve known them a very long time.” —Emily Giffin, New York Times bestselling author of Something Borrowed
- Beautiful, jacketed hardcover perfect for gift giving
- Sweet Christmas story of approximately 45,000 words
- Discussion questions for book clubs
- Patti’s family shortbread recipe
- Instructions for Charlotte’s Southern Garland
- The Legend of the Claddagh Ring
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.20(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The truth inside the story is what the storyteller aims for.
— Maeve Mahoney to Kara Larson
The Unknown Souls lived for the music, for the notes and the lyrics and the rarefied moment when it all came together in something greater than the sum of its parts, greater than the writer and the instrument and the voice. They waited through the other songs — all lovely and rough and sweet and melancholic — through the endless gigs, because they believed in the songs, and the stories hidden inside. They believed in the power of music and lyric to change a life. Little did they know that their belief would soon be fulfilled, that their hope in things unseen would be as evident as the stages on which they stood.
The story of the ballad that changed their lives began on an early and dusky Thanksgiving morning as the band's battered tour bus pulled into Seaboro, South Carolina, a small town waking up to the hanging of garland, wreaths, and bows for the approaching holidays. The gas lanterns spilled golden light onto the damp streets and holiday lights were being strung from every storefront, but this sign of holiday arrival meant little to the bedraggled group half-asleep in varied positions on the threadbare seats. It was just another day, just another road trip for the band members. This time, however, the port of call was an exception for Jack and Jimmy. The brothers arrived in their childhood hometown, not for a concert, but to see their loves.
On a band's tour bus, holidays didn't mean so much. Time slipped by during the nights they forgot to sleep and the days of highway ribbon unfurling beneath the wheels. But that day Jimmy Sullivan did know what day it was — Thanksgiving morning.
He was the only one awake, his head lolled against the grimy window, aching with the kind of depletion that isn't easily cured with Tylenol and Gatorade. His brother, Jack, was asleep in the back seat. Ole Bud, the driver, had done his duty, driving through the night.
Jimmy opened the bus window, slamming it down with a few hammers of his hand, and noticed the palms bent low in submission, took in the sweet smells of earth, sea, and salt. It was a balmy coastal morning, the air infused with the rain of the past two days. He inhaled the aroma of childhood, then closed his eyes to all the good and bad of the visceral memories that assaulted him each time he believed he'd overcome the past.
Jimmy and Jack Sullivan founded the band ten years ago, and the five of them had been together ever since. Jimmy played the acoustic guitar and Jack the bass guitar. Their duo of voices blended in most of the songs and yet each had his own style when singing alone. They wrote and traveled together, as bonded, loving, and argumentative as any two brothers could be. Then there was Harry, the drummer; Isabelle, the backup singer; and Luke, the band manager and keyboard player, each as close as family.
Within minutes, the bus lurched onto the side of the road in front of a small one-story brick house hidden behind a forest of magnolia and oak. Above, the tree's branches wove themselves into a crochet pattern of green netting. Jack awoke as Bud slammed into park and called out, "Destination reached."
Jack stood and walked toward the front of the bus, cranking his neck left and right, rubbing at his eyes until he reached Jimmy. "We're here."
Under normal conditions, Jimmy wouldn't have wanted to stay for this gathering, no matter how much his brother prodded; he'd rather hang out with the band or fiddle with his guitar and write a song. He wasn't much on domestic events, even if the family belonged to his brother's fiancée, Kara, who was their childhood next-door neighbor. But there was one thing that could change a man's mind — a woman. And the woman who made Jimmy want to celebrate the holidays, Charlotte Carrington, was waiting inside that house on the coastal river.
With his holiday memories about as sordid as they come, he was usually as bah humbug as Ebenezer, but lately Jimmy felt like he was living in a sappy country song. He'd known Charlotte for a few years as a child and they'd reconnected months ago. At first, he'd denied this blooming love to his brother and anyone who would listen. But no one believed him, because love like that was obvious to everyone within a heartbeat's distance.
Isabelle made her way to the front of the bus, gathering her things on the way. "We'll take off and leave y'all alone today." Her smoky voice was somehow both tough and tender.
"Nope," Jack said. "You're staying. We're family, and it's Thanksgiving." A band counted as family, and they all knew it. For a few of them it was the only family they cared about.
Jimmy stood, wrapping his left arm around Isabelle with a squeeze as Bud opened the bus with the hiss of the powered doors. Humid air poured in, and Jimmy squinted into the sunlight. Porter Larson, Kara's dad, stood in his pressed khakis and blue button-down, waiting with a wide smile and a wave. Jack jumped first from the bus, and Porter hugged him.
Now, that was a Thanksgiving miracle, because Mr. Larson had been none too keen on Kara breaking up with Mr. Hotshot Golfer to hook up with an old neighbor who was now in a country-singing band. But Porter's smile and hug sang of a changed spirit. After he'd seen Jack's deep love for Kara, and Kara's happiness at having Jack back in her life, how could Porter deny his daughter the true joy of knowing the partnership and intimacy he'd had with his own wife, a woman he still mourned every day?
"Happy Thanksgiving," Porter hollered into the bus as Jimmy climbed out and stepped onto the damp grass. "Ready to join us for the day?"
One by one the group descended from the bus, wiping at their eyes and stretching. Isabelle answered, "Happy Thanksgiving to you, Mr. Larson, but I think we're headed to the beach for the afternoon. We have a concert in Nashville tomorrow, so —"
"Oh no you don't," Porter said. "You're coming to spend the day with us."
Luke, in his Unknown Souls black T-shirt and wrinkled sweatpants, stepped forward. "We're fine, Mr. Larson. We just need to find a place to clean up and shower and then we'll be out of your hair. You've got your hands full with the Sullivan boys here."
"Please," Porter said. "We'd love it, and we have plenty of food. Kara and Charlotte have been cooking for days. The kayaks are in the river. The hammock is strung up. The turkey is in the oven, and the beer is on ice."
The band members glanced at one another.
Harry's long brown hair hung loose and tangled, and he was holding drumsticks in his hand, as he always did. "Now there's a seductive invitation." He nudged Isabelle. "And I'm betting Kara's turkey is better than a sub sandwich."
"Then it's decided." Mr. Larson waved his hand toward the house. "Now, follow me."
The bus engine coughed and revved as Bud drove off to visit a friend on the other side of town while Jimmy, Jack, Harry, Luke, and Isabelle trailed behind Kara's dad like a group of misfit toys needing showers and naps.
The house was bright and warm as they entered. The smells of cinnamon and roast turkey filled Jimmy with a longing for things both lost and never experienced. He scanned the room for the reason he had agreed to this stop along the tour route — and there she was: Charlotte, with her long blond curls catching the firelight, hugging Jack and then Luke and Harry. Jimmy marveled at the light that seemed to radiate from her. As if his stare kissed her cheek, she turned and looked at him, her smile widening. She came to him and threw her arms around his neck.
In the middle of the room they held each other, and for a brief moment the world faded. Jimmy took her face in his hands and kissed her. "I missed you, sweet you."
"You too." She kissed him again.
"When I see you," he said, "the world lights up. I've never seen anything like it. How did I ever deserve this?"
She laughed, that beautiful sound that could drop the chains from any man's locked-up heart. "So unexpected," he said and shook his head.
"Isn't that the best sort? The unexpected?" She turned her attention back to the room. When she did this — when she turned her light from him to others — he felt a f lash of something akin to jealousy. But it faded quickly.
Then the sounds of family grew louder; Kara's sister and husband, Deidre and Bill, walked through the front door in matching sweatshirts adorned with a turkey, juggling plastic containers of food and a case of wine. Kara's brother, Brian, followed. His fishing shirt and shorts were both as muddy as if he'd just climbed out of the river. He held up a cooler labeled "Fresh shrimp."
Charlotte came and took it from him and kissed his cheek. "You catch 'em, I'll cook 'em."
The house filled with the cacophony of family, of laughter and private jokes. The band crowded the living room, appearing misplaced on the prissy antique furniture of Mr. Larson's living room, which looked exactly the same as it had the day his wife, Margarite, passed away twenty years ago.
Jimmy took it all in. While the others showered and changed and he waited his turn, he soaked up the atmosphere. This, he imagined, if their dad hadn't been a fall-down drunk, if he'd been a decent man ... this was what their life would have been like. Shrimp from the river behind the house. Laughter and warmth starting the holidays.
Jimmy avoided looking out the window at the two-story A-frame next door. He and Jack had lived in that house until he was sixteen and Jack was twelve. Until that fateful Christmas morning when their mother packed up the station wagon with everything they could fit into it, drove to Texas without the gifts that had been under the tree, and hadn't stopped for anything but gas, drinks, and packaged food from convenience stores off the highway. She drank Mountain Dew to stay awake, and the radio blared with whatever station came in along the bleak highway.
Jimmy shook off the memory and returned his attention to the living room.
Green damask curtains fell to the floor where Isabelle, who had exchanged her usual tattered jeans for a black dress, sat primly on a cushion, her long black hair, still wet from her shower, dripping onto her shoulders. She began to tell stories, ones about Jimmy and his antics on the road.
She was good at this, and everyone laughed as she told the tale about Jimmy hiring a girl to run up on stage and dance around Jack, trying to rope him with a lasso as he sang the Toby Keith song "Should've Been a Cowboy."
Jack entered the room in the midst of the telling, running his hands through his wet hair. "I'm telling you, I almost killed him, but what would we do without Jimmy's jokes on tour? I think sometimes they save us from insanity, even when we beg him to stop."
The voices and warm food, the wine and deep laughter filled the room. Charlotte's mother, Rosie, appeared just in time for dinner bearing a dessert tray covered in tin foil that looked too heavy to carry. Charlotte's dad had passed only five years ago, and Rosie still seemed to turn to look for him whenever she walked in a room.
Sometimes Thanksgiving Day is all it should be in a family and in a home. That day inside the Larson home was one of those. In the simple and complicated way of love, relationships were stitched together over food, twinkling lights, bad jokes, and melancholy memories. They talked about Maeve Mahoney, the Irish woman Kara believed had brought her back to Jack. They spoke of Kara's mother, Margarite, and how both Margarite and Maeve seemed to be present in all that was said and done that day. They remembered Charlotte's dad and his loud jokes that were funny only in the way they weren't funny at all, and how he would laugh so heartily at his telling that everyone just joined in. They spoke of Jack and Jimmy's sweet mother, Andrea, now in California.
Jimmy couldn't tear his gaze from Charlotte, with her laugh, her tender touch, and gentle words. Families had never been a safe place for Jimmy, and he'd believed they never would be, like growing up in a war-torn country and then believing that all lands were embattled. But he was beginning to relax into the rhythm of a new place where Charlotte inhabited not just the Lowcountry but also his country.
The tangled memories of the house next door often left Jimmy dizzy. How should he feel about a place where he had lived with a mother as loving as his, a place where he had grown up, in this quaint, coastal town, and yet a place where an abusive and drunk dad hung like a poisonous cloud over their lives?
Only a woman like Charlotte could get him to return.
* * *
As the friends sat down on the back screened-in porch at the end of Thanksgiving Day, the cool evening breezes flowing off the river and twilight flirting with the water, tossing sparkled light across its basin, the reminiscing began.
It was Harry who asked, yawning from the porch swing where he'd just awoken from his second nap. "Someone please tell me how this man here" — he thumped the back of Jack's head with his thumb — "Came to fall for this gorgeous creature." He pointed at Kara. "Or should I say, tell me how she fell for him. It all seems quite unlikely."
Charlotte spoke first, snuggling closer to Jimmy on the porch's wicker couch. "Kara and Jack's love story has been told before, but it is so beautiful that I love to tell it again and again."
Kara held out her hands, palms up, as if offering the story to the room. "Charlotte tells it best, and I usually get too emotional anyway." She lifted her chin to her friend. "Will you?"
"Go on then," Luke said and popped open a beer. "Spill it."
"You see ..." Charlotte glanced around and then continued. "Jack and Kara were childhood sweethearts, but Jack and Jimmy moved away when Jack was only twelve." She grinned and leaned forward, now in her best storytelling mode. "Now, you can split a boy and girl apart, but here's what you can't do — take the love. No, sir. You just can't. Love moves the same way blood does — running and thrumming through every cell and unseen thing that makes us who we are."
"Good Lord, woman." Harry laughed. "Are you writing a song or telling a story?"
"Is there a difference?" she asked and tossed a wadded-up napkin at him that landed on the white painted floor.
"Point well taken. Go on."
Charlotte did go on, and she told the story of Kara and Jack, about how they found each other.
Their rekindled romance had begun in May of the previous year, when Kara was engaged to the wrong man. Not a bad man. Just wrong for her. Kara had lost her mother when she was nine years old, and her daddy was a strict man who just wanted his daughter to be happy and thought that her famous pro-golf fiancé was the best thing for her. She wanted to please her daddy. Who doesn't? This is built into the human soul.
Kara was working as a director for the PGA Tour, not only a grand job in her father's eyes but also a vocation that allowed her to meet Peyton Ellers, who was a star on the PGA Tour. Peyton was all those things a girl like Kara, a good girl trying to do all the right things at the right time, would have looked for and loved. And sometimes when everything looks just right we think it's just right, when it merely appears that way.
About this time a woman named Maeve Mahoney from Galway, Ireland, entered Kara's very perfect life. Well, to be precise, Kara entered Maeve's life when Kara walked through the front doors of the Verandah Nursing Home and into Maeve's room, stating, "I'm here to spend some time with you."
Kara didn't mind coming to the nursing home; these visits were volunteer hours for the Junior League, and although she'd been "assigned" those hours, she entered Maeve's room with a sense of expectancy. When Kara found the woman asleep, she began to f lip through her bridal magazines. Maeve awoke and watched the young woman, who seemed both harried and preoccupied, and in a melodic Irish voice, she launched into a story about true love.
Kara tolerated this woman's ramblings at first, believing that Maeve was a bit-of-crazy and had confused life, love, Ireland, and Seaboro into a mishmash of memories. She spoke endlessly about Galway Bay and how its waters connected her to the waters of South Carolina. But after a while, over the course of Kara's visits, it became evident that Maeve was telling a love story, one that sounded a lot like the tale of the Claddagh ring, a story clouded in myth with a little blarney thrown in for good measure, which Kara had once read in a child's book about the Emerald Isle.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Perfect Love Song"
Copyright © 2019 Patti Callahan Henry.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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