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Evelyn Peerbaugh is not so sure she likes the new dynamics of Peerbaugh Place. Just when she and her first tenants had found a calm cove of sisterhood, times changed and Evelyn's boardinghouse had new vacancies to fill. Now Evelyn is starting over. But she has high hopes that these women will become part of a new life-changing sister circle . . . .
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round the corner
By vonette bright nancy moser Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2003
Vonette Bright and Nancy Moser
All right reserved.
Chapter One I will answer them before they even call to me. While they are still talking to me about their needs, I will go ahead and answer their prayers! ISAIAH 65:24
Evelyn stood in the kitchen of her boardinghouse, Peerbaugh Place. The room was lit only by the light from the fridge. Gone were Mae's zucchini and bean sprouts, gone were Tessa's labeled Tupperware containing dabs of this and that, gone were Audra's Diet Coke and Summer's yogurt with sprinkles.
Her appetite left her. Who would have thought the food in a refrigerator could tell such a story?
Or rather, the lack of food in a refrigerator.
She shut the door, throwing the room into darkness. It was depressing. After vibrating with life for nine months, Peerbaugh Place was empty once more-and had been for two weeks now.
Evelyn let her eyes adjust to the dark before she snaked her way past the kitchen table to the light switch. With the lights blazing, with the clutter of coupons and recipes on the counter and the yellow curtains at the window, it looked like a cozy, lived-in place. The scent of last night's split pea soup lingered.
But without the sounds of her dear friends-her sisters-it was a hollow coziness and a phantom family. There one minute, gone the next.
At least that's whatit felt like.
In truth, the emptying of Peerbaugh Place had been gradual-and joyful. In the ten months since the death of her husband, in the nine months since she'd opened her Victorian home to boarders, Evelyn had been witness to some wonderful milestones in the lives of her friends.
Tessa Klein had won a national contest and was off on a three-month world cruise. Just last week, Evelyn had received a postcard from Naples picturing a mosaic wall from Pompeii. History and Tessa Klein were the perfect match-if Tessa didn't make a pest of herself correcting the tour guides. But a cruise? Evelyn had trouble imagining Tessa lounging in a deck chair, sipping a drink with an umbrella in it. But maybe her good fortune had loosened Tessa up. Or not.
And Mae Fitzpatrick was-as of a month ago-Mae Ames, the boisterous and loving wife of their neighbor Collier. As expected, she'd defected to Collier's house across the street, so Evelyn still got to see her, but somehow having Mae visit was not the same as having Mae in-house, akin to ordering a bowl of apple brown Betty but having someone pull it away after only taking a nibble. She felt unsatisfied and a bit cheated.
Evelyn was drawn toward a picture that hung in the place of honor above the phone and straightened it. The artist was five-year-old Summer. The biggest blessing amidst the wistfulness was that Summer was officially hers now. With Audra's marriage to Evelyn's son, Russell, nearly two weeks ago on the Saturday after Christmas, Evelyn had become an instant grandma. And once the three of them got back from the honeymoon, Evelyn would resume her child-care duties with Summer on weekdays before and after school. That was a continued blessing she needed to count. But until then ...
The clock in the entry chimed the hour: six o'clock. She'd been wandering through the house for over an hour. The world was waking. She might as well get something done besides wallowing, wandering, and worrying.
She was unsuccessful. During the next hour, Evelyn's entire achievement-other than making herself a cup of coffee and getting dressed-was to worry and wander some more.
She'd grabbed up her cat, Peppers, and together they had visited each empty room, trying to see things as a prospective boarder might see them. Though she'd been running an ad in the Carson Creek Chronicle for over a month now-with first Mae's room up for grabs, then Tessa's, and now Audra and Summer's-she'd had lookers but no takers. The reasons cited had been varied: too small, not enough sun, too much sun, too many antiques, no modem hookup. Evelyn hadn't dared ask what a modem was.
She strolled through Mae's room, ran a hand along the walnut dresser that had belonged to Grandma Peerbaugh, and straightened the seascape painting that now hung over the bed, since Mae had taken her awful Picasso. From the very beginning Evelyn had removed most of the family knickknacks, providing space for each boarder to add her own pretties, but now she wondered if the rooms looked too bare. Too sanitized. Maybe if she put the fancies back people would sign a lease?
She moved to Tessa's room. It was painted a pale pink. Was pink in style anymore? Maybe she should paint the walls a neutral beige. And the quilt on the bed in the room that Audra and Summer had shared ... it had been in the Peerbaugh family for generations, but boarders wouldn't care about such things. They would see only the faded colors and the slight fraying at the corners. Maybe she should call her friend Piper over to redecorate all the rental rooms. Piper had been such a help giving the master bedroom a redo, helping to turn it from Aaron's and Evelyn's room into Evelyn's.
Evelyn let her doubts push her onto the bed. Why was this happening? When she'd first made the decision to open her home to boarders, the rooms had virtually rented themselves. Within twenty-four hours of calling out to God in desperation after her husband's death and learning of the unexpected financial crisis, after getting the idea to hang the old Peerbaugh Place, Rooms 4 Rent sign she'd found in the attic, the rooms were rented. It had happened in a blink, as if the thought and reality were one and the same.
Evelyn never regretted the decision. With the full house and new friends, she'd found the strength to carry on after Aaron's death.
"But now they've all deserted me." Evelyn hadn't meant to say the words aloud, and upon hearing her voice, realized how angry she sounded. Did she really begrudge Mae her new husband, Audra and Summer her son, or Tessa her cruise? Was she really that selfish?
She nodded, propelling herself off the bed. Enough of this pouting. She had work to do. She'd call Piper and have her stop over after work and take a look at the rooms. Piper was great at decorating on a shoestring, which was good, because that's all Evelyn had.
She went downstairs to call, but detoured onto the front porch, wrapping her sweater around her torso. A scattering of leaves skittered over the snow and up the steps to meet her. The Peerbaugh Place, Rooms 4 Rent sign swayed in the breeze, and Evelyn found herself wondering if a coat of fresh paint would help draw attention to it. Maybe if she used some neon color?
A garish sign on her lovely Victorian home? That would never do. Besides, such a move would shout desperation.
She watched her breath vaporize in the cold yet didn't want to go in quite yet. The cold woke her up and helped her think. She hoped she was a smarter landlord this time around. Where she'd filled Peerbaugh Place with Mae, Tessa, Audra and Summer without so much as a renter's application, this time she was prepared. It's not that she'd had a bad experience. Just the opposite. It had been a God thing.
No, that wasn't exactly true. Evelyn knew God was behind the filling of Peerbaugh Place the first time. But this time, she felt it was her responsibility to be wiser and show God she'd matured as a businesswoman. She was prepared to have applicants fill out the paperwork; then she'd check references ... the whole schmear.
She heard the screen door slam across the street.
"Well, top o' the morning to you, Evie." Mae zipped up a ski coat and headed toward her, diverting through a pile of snow Evelyn had watched Collier shovel the day before.
Once again, Evelyn was amazed at Mae's gumption. "Collier's not going to appreciate you messing up his hard work."
"Oh, pooh," Mae said, coming up the walk. "What good are piles and puddles if you can't walk through them?"
Evelyn thought of her own late husband. How would Aaron have reacted if Evelyn had walked through a pile of just-shoveled snow? The question was moot. Evelyn would never consider walking through snow, and that knowledge made her kind of sad. Sometimes she felt like an extremely elderly fifty-seven-year-old, while Mae made over-fifty look positively youthful.
Mae took the porch steps two at a time and snapped her on the shoulder. "How's the landlord business? How many you got filled?"
Evelyn shook her head.
"What's up with this town? They don't know what they're missing. I loved my months at Peerbaugh Place."
"Care to move back in?"
Mae leaned close. "You'll find people, Evie."
Evelyn turned her ring-the silver friendship ring Mae had made for each of them. "But it's taking so long. I'm beginning to wonder if the whole thing was a mistake. Maybe I should close her down."
"Gracious geckos, Evie, Peerbaugh Place is a wonderful home." She stilled Evelyn's hand and held up her own to show her matching ring. "It was the birthplace of our sister circle. And it will be again, to another set of ladies."
"It won't be the same. They won't be sisters."
"We weren't sisters either. Not at first."
"But why is it taking so long?"
Mae stepped back. "I don't know."
Evelyn was surprised-and not comforted. Mae always had an opinion. About every thing. "I was thinking I should redecorate the rooms," she said. "Take out some of the antiques and replace them with some modern furniture."
"Don't you dare. Who wants to live in a Victorian house decorated with Danish modern?"
"Then what's the answer?"
"Stop thinking so much."
Mae knocked some snow off the railing. "You're analyzing this thing to death. You've done every thing you can do to get the place rented, right?"
"Then quit dissecting the problem and let the big Landlord of landlords rent it for you."
"He did it the first time, didn't He? We've all admitted that."
Evelyn put a hand over her eyes. "Oh dear ... I'm so ashamed. I didn't pray; I haven't asked-"
"Hey, better late than never."
Evelyn looked over the yard and watched some leftover leaves relinquish their hold and fall into the graceful care of the breeze. Where would they land? There was no way to tell. And maybe it didn't matter. Why not enjoy the journey?
Relinquish your hold, Evelyn. I've got you.
Evelyn turned back to Mae, taking her hand. "Will you pray with me?"
They bowed their heads. As they said "Amen," they saw Collier come out of the house across the street. He eyed the scattered snow pile. He looked up and saw them. "Mae!"
She sprang from the porch. "Coming, Mr. Husband."
* * *
Evelyn answered the phone.
A woman's voice. " I'm calling about the room for rent?"
Lord, could this be a yes?
Evelyn told the woman about the rooms available. "Would you like to come see them?"
"If it's not too much trouble I'll be right over."
* * *
Heddy Wainsworth walked through the three bedrooms a second time. Evelyn stood aside in the hallway, trying to pray, but not quite knowing what to pray for. Heddy was a prospective tenant. Evelyn needed a tenant. But was Heddy the kind of person she could live with? All external clues said yes, and yet ...
Heddy was the essence of polite, calling Evelyn "Mrs. Peerbaugh" and saying "yes, ma'am" and "no, ma'am." Her nose kept her from crossing the line from pretty to beautiful, and her long wavy hair and pale skin joined with her delicate frame to give her an ethereal quality. She wore a voile skirt that undulated around her legs, along with a classic cardigan set in the palest seafoam green. Both reinforced her femininity yet were a bit disconcerting, being out of season.
As for her age? It was hard to say. Definitely over thirty, but beyond that, Evelyn wasn't sure. Whatever her age, her lissome daintiness made Evelyn a bit pouty about the fifteen extra pounds that had settled around her middle since her fortieth birthday. While Evelyn walked through a room, Heddy seemed to fl oat. Her movements reminded Evelyn of Isadora Duncan, that dancer at the turn of the century who used all the fl owing scarves. The woman gave the notion that she was there but not there, that any moment a breeze would pass through the room and take her away, leaving an observer wondering if anyone had ever been there at all.
Heddy made a third trip back to Mae's old room. "I like this one best. I adore the balcony. If it's all right with you, Mrs. Peerbaugh, I'll take it."
Evelyn blinked twice, shocked to actually hear the words she'd been waiting-and praying-to hear. "That's wonderful."
"I have good references," Heddy said.
Evelyn had nearly forgotten her landlord duties. " I'm sure you do. Let's go downstairs. I have an application for you to fill out."
They descended into the dining room, and Heddy meticulously filled out the form and handed it to Evelyn. "When will I know if I can have the room? I'm very eager to move in."
Evelyn looked over the form, so neatly filled out with a cursive that would make a calligrapher envious. Heddy had last lived in nearby Jackson. Five years in the same apartment. Surely that indicated stability. Did Evelyn really have to call her references? Couldn't she just tell Heddy yes right now?
Heddy had gotten up from the table and was taking in the room. "This furniture is lovely. They don't make pieces like this anymore. Solid. Graceful detail. I don't abide by modern-looking pieces with straight lines and no adornment."
She likes antiques. "They're family heirlooms."
Heddy ran a finger along the walnut hutch. "Hmm ... family ..."
"Do you have family?"
Heddy opened her mouth to answer, then closed it. "Some." She moved to the silver tea service that sat on a cart by the window. "Ooh, do you use this often?"
"Not really. But I remember my mother-in-law using it when we used to come to Sunday supper."
"So you didn't grow up here?"
"It's my husband's family home. But he and I moved in nearly thirty years ago. We raised our son here."
"A child. How wonderful." Evelyn noticed a pensive look to her eyes. She glanced at Heddy's ring finger. It was bare. "Have you ever been married?"
Heddy suddenly looked at her watch. " I'm sorry. I have to get to work. It's a new job. They want to show me around."
"Where are you working?"
"I just got a job as the hostess at Ruby's Diner. I hope I do a good job for them." She headed toward the door. Evelyn was impressed with her sincerity. She glanced at the application form, then at Heddy, whose hand was on the doorknob. "I think we can dispense with the formalities. You want the room, it's yours."
Heddy smiled wide, revealing a perfect set of teeth. "That would be grand. When can I move in?"
"Anytime." "This afternoon? I'll be off work at two."
Evelyn was a bit taken aback, but said, "Certainly."
They shook hands, but as soon as Heddy left, Evelyn felt a stitch in her stomach. Now that's an odd reaction.
She pushed the feeling away.
One room down. Two to go.
* * *
The doorbell rang. A knock followed. Before Evelyn could get to the landing, another knock.
"Coming!" Evelyn saw the shadow of a woman through the leaded glass. The bell rang again just as she opened the door. Evelyn had rarely seen such a large woman. She was dressed stylishly, but two Evelyns could have fit into her clothes.
"You have a room for rent?" She waved a hand at the Peerbaugh Place sign swinging in the breeze.
Evelyn caught her mouth before it gaped. The idea of this woman sleeping in one of her delicate antique beds ... the woman was waiting. "I ... yes. I have two rooms for rent."
"Then show me. My name is Anabelle Griese." She stuck out a hand.
They shook hands across the doorway. "Evelyn Peerbaugh."
There was a moment of awkward silence. "Well?"
The hint of impatience added to the first impression made Evelyn want to say no. But in an instant, she realized propriety demanded that she show the room. She let Anabelle in and racked her brain for points that would make this woman not want to live here. She showed her the parlor. "The tenants have their own bedroom and access to the rest of the public areas here on the first floor. There is a sunroom out back, the dining room, the kitchen with an eating area, and-"
"Is that the only TV?" Anabelle pointed to the small set in the corner of the parlor.
Excerpted from round the corner by vonette bright nancy moser Copyright © 2003 by Vonette Bright and Nancy Moser. Excerpted by permission.
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